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Gulf Coast Residents Cleaning Up, Facing Health Risks

Health Risks
Isaac has left more than flood waters and destruction behind

More than two weeks after Isaac began its path of destruction, the American Red Cross relief effort continues along the Gulf Coast.

The Red Cross will be in the region for weeks to come, providing help and comfort to people in need. Hundreds of people are still in shelters, some areas are still without power and entire communities are cleaning up after the flooding. Red Cross emergency response vehicles are a welcome sight throughout the area, bringing people cold drinks, hot meals, clean-up supplies and a shoulder to lean on.

The relief response along the Gulf Coast will cost an estimated $10 million dollars and the Red Cross needs the public’s help now. To donate, people can visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

HEALTH RISKS Isaac has left more than flood waters and destruction behind. There are health risks everywhere and the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, has declared a public health emergency. The Red Cross has steps people should take to remain safe while cleaning up their properties.

Some of the dangers people are facing include chemicals and debris, along with snakes and mosquitoes floating in flood waters and mold building up in homes. Sadly, another hazard is the fact that dead farm animals’ bodies are beginning to surface as the water recedes. And health officials say the increased mosquito population increases the threat of West Nile Virus which has currently been reported in 48 states.

CLEAN WOUNDS IMMEDIATELY The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports people should clean out all wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. After cleaning the wound with soap and water, place a clean dry dressing and keep the wound dry. Folks should get a tetanus shot if they haven’t had one in the last ten years. Contact a doctor to find out whether more treatment is needed. If a wound gets red, swells, or drains, seek immediate medical attention.

WEST NILE VIRUS The CDC reports that as of the beginning of September, 48 states have reported 1,993 cases of West Nile Virus. Standing water in areas flooded by Isaac increases the mosquito population and the threat of people contracting the virus. Some steps people can take to lessen the risk include:

  • Use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient.
  • Wear long sleeves, socks and pants.
  • Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Consider staying indoors during these hours.
  • MOLD HAZARDS People’s homes and everything in them – drywall, carpets, clothing – were soaked with flood waters and now are filling up with mold. People should clean up and dry out their home quickly if possible, within two days. Hard surfaces should be cleaned with soap and hot water and all drywall and insulation exposed to floodwaters removed. Waterlogged items will be heavier and people should be careful when moving them.

    DANGEROUS WATERS Chemicals, floating debris and mosquitoes in the water are hazardous. People should avoid floodwaters and keep children out of the water. Other safety steps include:

  • During cleanup, wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots.
  • Watch out for wild animals, especially poisonous snakes that may have come into your home with the floodwater.
  • Make sure your food and water are safe. Discard items that have come in contact with floodwater, including canned goods, water bottles, plastic utensils and baby bottle nipples. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Contact your local or state public health department to see if your water supply might be contaminated. You may need to boil or treat it before use. Do not use water that could be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.
  • Materials such as cleaning products, paint, batteries, contaminated fuel and damaged fuel containers are hazardous. Check with local authorities for assistance with disposal to avoid risk.
  • About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.