Mississippi State Department of Health Warns of Safety After the Storm

Published 12:30 pm Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) continues to monitor the health impacts of recent severe weather. Significant power outages, home repairs, and flooding can create dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations, even days after the storms have ended.

Mississippi residents should take the following special precautions against health risks after the storm:

Food Safety: Preventing Food-Borne Diseases

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwater. Throw away all fresh food including fruits, vegetables and other produce that have been submerged in floodwater.
  • Throw away all screw cap or crimp cap containers that were submerged.
  • Discard any cold or cool food that has warmed. Food that is still frozen or cold (45 degrees Fahrenheit or less) is safe to prepare.
  • Undamaged, commercially canned foods that have been submerged can be saved if you remove the labels and then disinfect the cans in a bleach solution. Use ¼ cup of bleach in one gallon of water; re-label the cans including expiration date and type of food. Assume that home-canned food is unsafe if submerged.
  • If you are not breastfeeding, use boiled water when preparing formula for infants if under a boil water notice.

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Floodwater and Drinking Water Safety

Any loss or significant drop in your water pressure, even if it is brief, means that your water supply could be contaminated by groundwater. If you notice an interruption, loss of pressure, or significant drop in pressure in your water service, follow standard boil-water precautions below. If you are unsure of the safety of your water, contact your water supply operator.

  • Vigorously boil water for at least a full minute before using.
  • Disinfect water by adding two drops of unscented chlorine bleach to each quart of clear water, or four drops of bleach for each quart of muddy or dirty water. Let the water stand at least 30 minutes before using.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected, especially after participating in cleanup activities or handling items contaminated by floodwater or sewage.
  • If you have open cuts or sores exposed to the floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. If a wound or sore develops redness, swelling or drainage, see a physician.
  • Do not allow children to play in floodwater. They can be exposed to water contaminated with sewage or fecal matter. Do not allow children to play with toys that have been in floodwater until the toys have been disinfected. Use ¼ cup of bleach in one gallon of water.

Clearing Standing Water: Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illness

Heavy rains and flooding can lead to an increase in mosquitoes, and increase the risk of mosquito-borne diseases. To protect against mosquitoes, follow the 4 D’s for prevention:

  • Dusk and Dawn — Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood, for many species this is during the dusk and dawn hours.
  • Dress — Wear clothing that covers skin.
  • DEET — When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) are recommended. In addition to those containing DEET, insect repellents including the ingredients picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus in mosquito repellents are recommended for use on human skin. Always read the manufacturer’s directions carefully before you put on a repellent.
  • Drainage — Check your home to rid it of standing water in which mosquitoes can lay their eggs.

Mold and Mildew

Stagnant moisture can be an ideal source for mold growth. When airborne mold spores are present in large numbers, they can cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections and other respiratory problems.

If mold is a problem in your home, clean, disinfect with bleach, dry the moldy area and then bag and dispose any material that has moldy residues, such as rags, paper, leaves or debris. Eliminate sources of moisture that encourage the growth of mold.

The MSDH neither regulates nor tests for mold. You should contact a commercial environmental consulting firm for services related to mold.

Tetanus Information

Cleanup of damage or debris can easily lead to cuts at risk of infection. Wear gloves and sturdy shoes or boots during cleanup work. Tetanus vaccination is recommended if it’s been 10 years or more since your last tetanus vaccination (Tdap is the recommended vaccine). In the event of a puncture wound or wound contaminated with floodwater, individuals should consult a healthcare provider. 

Carbon Monoxide

Gasoline-powered generators can produce dangerous carbon monoxide gas, as can burning any fuel for cooking or heating indoors. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas, and is highly poisonous. Take the following precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Only use grills or generators outdoors. Do not use grills or generators inside a house, garage or any enclosed space.
  • Symptoms of CO poisoning may include fatigue, weakness, chest pains for those with heart disease, shortness of breath upon exertion, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.
  • If you suspect you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances and go outside. In cases of severe CO poisoning, call 911 emergency services or the Mississippi Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.