ST. PAUL — State health officials are reminding Minnesota residents to avoid unnecessary contact with flood water.
“People need to remember that flood water may be contaminated with sewage, disease-causing germs and other potential contaminants,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases for the Minnesota Department of Health. “People should avoid swimming, playing or other contact with flood water – and in particular, they should avoid swallowing it.”
Recent heavy rains across much of the state have caused many rivers, tributaries and lakes to overflow, bringing floodwaters to many communities. In some locations, sanitary sewer systems have had to discharge sewage over land or in nearby waters in order to keep it from backing up into residences.
Playing in flood water can also be dangerous because of physical hazards that may lurk under the surface. “Because flood water ends up in places that aren’t ordinarily under water, there can be a very real risk of injury from submerged objects that aren’t visible from the surface, or by debris that may be carried along with the flood,” Ehresmann said.
Simple skin contact usually won’t make you sick even if flood water is contaminated, Ehresmann said, but you should still take some simple precautions if you can’t avoid exposure. She advised washing up with soap and clean water after being in contact with flood water. She especially emphasized the importance of washing your hands before preparing food, eating, drinking or putting anything in your mouth. She also suggested wearing gloves when dealing with items that may be contaminated with sewage.
Ehresmann noted that contact with contaminated water may continue to be a potential concern until flood waters recede and any damage to sanitary sewer systems has been assessed.
More information on health and safety issues related to flooding can be found on the MDH website at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/emergency/natural/floods/index.html