Department of Health warns that flood waters pose health risks

Press release from Alachua County at the request of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County

Recent rains and those associated with Tropical Storm Elsa have causes localized flooding in Alachua County. Floodwaters may contain fecal material and associated bacteria and viruses, in addition to displaced wildlife such as snakes and insects.

“Reports of sewage overflows are being assessed by the Alachua County Health Department (ACHD), and impacted areas with private potable wells are particularly concerning,” stated Paul Myers, Administrator of the ACHD. “Additionally, residents and visitors should avoid exposure to standing water, including retention basins and local urban creeks.”

If your residence is served by a private potable well and the water becomes discolored, or the well is inundated, 

  • It is advised to use an alternative water source such as bottled water for consumption. Consumption includes drinking, making ice, washing fruits and vegetables, and brushing teeth.
  • Residents may also consider bringing the well water to a rolling boil for one minute. If you cannot boil water, consider using a disinfecting chemical by putting eight drops of common household bleach (unscented), which is about 1/8 teaspoon, into one gallon of tap water, then shake it. Allow it to stand for 30 minutes before drinking. 
  • If the water is cloudy, use 16 drops, about 1/4 teaspoon of bleach instead of eight, shake it, and let it stand for 30 minutes. There should be a slight chlorine odor. Use common household bleach that has 5% to 8% active ingredients. Use food-grade containers.  
  • If using water purification tablets or iodine that many sports and camping stores sell, follow their directions.

Non-treated tap water may be used for showering, baths, shaving, and washing, so long as care is taken not to swallow or allow water in the eyes or nose, or mouth. Children and disabled individuals should have their baths supervised to ensure water is not ingested. The time spent bathing should be minimized. Though the risk of illness is minimal, individuals who have recent surgical wounds, are immunosuppressed, or have a chronic illness may want to consider using bottled or boiled water (that has cooled) for cleansing until the water system is cleared.

If your home is served by a septic system and the plumbing is functioning slowly or sluggishly, you should:

  • Conserve water as much as possible; the less water used, the less sewage the septic tank must process. Minimize the use of your washing machine or go to a laundromat. 
  • Rental of a portable toilet for a temporary period may be another option.
  • Do not have the septic tank pumped. Exceptionally high water tables might crush a septic tank that was pumped dry. If the fundamental problem is high groundwater, pumping the tank does nothing to solve that problem.
  • If you cannot use your plumbing without creating a sanitary nuisance, i.e., without sewage being exposed inside or outside the home, consider moving to a new location until conditions improve. 
  • Do not have the septic tank and drainfield repaired until the ground has dried. Often systems are completely functional when unsaturated conditions return. For your protection, any repair must be permitted and inspected by your county health department.

General precautions to prevent illnesses associated with floodwaters:

  • Basic hygiene is critical. Wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before preparing or eating food, after toilet use, after participating in flood cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated with floodwater or sewage.
  • Avoid eating or drinking anything that has been contaminated with floodwaters.
  • Do not wade through standing water. If you do, bathe, and put on clean clothes as soon as possible.

Avoid contact with floodwaters if you have open cuts or sores. 

  • If you have any open cuts or sores and cannot avoid contact with floodwaters, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention. Residents who sustain lacerations and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past ten years require a tetanus booster.
  • If there is a backflow of sewage into your house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup. Remove and discard absorbent household materials, such as wallcoverings, cloth, rugs, and sheetrock. Clean walls and hard-surfaced floors with soap and water and disinfect with a solution of 1/4 cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Thoroughly disinfect food contact surfaces (countertops, refrigerators, tables) and areas where small children play. Wash all linens and clothing in hot water. Air dry larger items in the sun and spray them with a disinfectant. Steam clean all carpeting.

For more information, visit the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County website.