How floodwater can make you very sick

While the skies have cleared up and storms have passed, dangers may still loom in the floods they leave behind.

Floodwaters flow into every nook and cranny, picking up any number of objects or waste it touches. Given the amount of waste swirling within floods, the water becomes too dirty to see through, making it nearly impossible to see what exactly it contains.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "floodwaters contain many things that may harm health," such as:

  • Wild or stray animals (dead or alive)
  • Downed power lines, lumber or other types of debris
  • Hazardous waste from households and medical and industrial facilities
  • Biological waste from livestock and humans (e.g., feces)

Contact with physical objects in the water may cause cuts or other injuries, contact with animals in the water may lead to bites and scratches and contact with chemical and biological waste may lead to infections. 

If floodwater contaminants enter the body either through open wounds or are ingested, they can lead to an assortment of diseases and ailments. Some examples of these are:

  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Infections of wounds
  • Skin rashes
  • Tetanus, a potentially lethal illness that affects the nervous system
  • Cholera, a diarrheal illness that, if untreated, can lead to death within hours

Because of these dangers, it’s important to completely avoid or limit your exposure to floodwaters. The CDC offers these recommendations:

  • Cover clean, open wounds with bandages that are waterproof
  • Do not drink floodwater or use it for personal hygiene
  • Do not use floodwater to wash or prepare food or to wash dishes
  • Only use water that has been boiled, treated or bottled
  • If using a private well, test your water before using it