In wake of flooding, health officials issue warning

EDINBURG — The Hidalgo County Health Department is warning residents to take precautionary measures for potential health hazards stemming from the recent floods.

As is the case with any major rain event, there are a number of potentially dangerous situations residents can face when dealing with the aftermath of a storm, such as standing water, mosquitoes and possible interactions with contaminated water and food, said Hidalgo County Health Director Eddie Olivarez.

To begin with, flood water is highly contaminated with runoff from agricultural fields, industrial chemicals, and waste from septic and sewage systems, Olivarez said, advising residents to stay away from it.

“If you have to get in standing water for evacuation purposes, please wear shoes — not chanclas,” he said about flip flop sandals. “Because if you walk barefoot, you don’t know what you’re stepping on. You might step on a bottle, and there’s a high risk of infection and it makes it more complicated to heal.”

Do not consume any food items that have been saturated with contaminated water, and be especially wary of foods that are not properly refrigerated.

“If you had a power outage, the food in your refrigerator may have gone bad,” Olivarez said. “If it doesn’t look good or smell good, do not eat it.”

And make sure to keep hydrated as soaring temperatures combine with high humidity to create dangerously hot weather conditions.

“It’s going to be in the 90s all weekend, but the humidity level is going to be real high,” Olivarez said about the temperature. “The heat index will be between 108 and 110 degrees.”

For those with diabetes or high blood pressure, refrain from drinking sugary sports drinks.

“Those sports drinks will affect you medically, so consult your physician,” Olivarez said. “If a person is feeling ill or showing bizarre rashes — because who knows what they can been exposed to — please seek medical attention.”

 

MOSQUITOES

These pesky little things can be especially dangerous, carrying diseases such as Zika and Chikungunya.

“Our mosquito problem is going to be bad, and it going to be a long-term problem. This is not going to go away in a week or two weeks,” Olivarez said, adding eggs can last four or five months before hatching. “Mother nature is powerful. It’s all about survival.”

There are four key factors when it comes to mosquito control: source reduction, bite reduction, spraying and larviciding, he said.

Source reduction is a responsibility for all. Residents should empty any items that hold standing water and limit the areas where mosquitoes can breed.

Hidalgo County and the surrounding cities are coordinating amongst each other, along with other departments, such as public works and parks and recreation, to expedite maintenance in public areas.

“They’re cutting the grass, weed eating — lessening the areas where mosquitoes can lay their legs,” Olivarez said.

Bite reduction is a personal responsibility. Residents should wear cool, lightweight clothing that offers protection from bites, such as shirts with long sleeves, pants and socks.

Wearing insecticide is also advised, and infants and pets should also use it, Olivarez said, noting that there are some natural insecticides on the market.

Hidalgo County is also partnering with surrounding cities to fumigate and larvicide.

Fumigation, or spraying, must be done under certain weather conditions and is not as effective as larviciding, the process of killing eggs by placing larvicide pellets in standing water.

“We can only spray if the wind is less than ten miles per hour, if it’s not raining and if the humidity level is below 80 percent,” Olivarez said. “We end up spraying very early in the morning because that’s when the wind is the calmest and the mosquitoes are the most active.”

His department is also in the process of launching an outreach campaign beginning next week that will require door-to-door visits, advising residents of the dangers and precautions they can take.

nlopez@themonitor.com