American Red Cross
Urges Public Health Precautions

WASHINGTON, September 2005 — As storm-weary residents of the Gulf Coast region return to begin rebuilding their homes and their lives, the American Red Cross stresses that health and safety must be a paramount concern.

The potential for illness and injury is heightened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's shocking devastation. Storm survivors are particularly vulnerable due to flood conditions, damaged sanitation and water treatment systems, and public shelter situations.

Outbreaks of serious infectious diseases following hurricanes are rare in developed countries, but the risk increases in crowded conditions if hygiene or sanitation are compromised, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional information from the CDC can be found on

However, everyone should take simple precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from common preventable illnesses and injuries. Experts stress that one of the best public health actions is to WASH YOUR HANDS REGULARLY WITH SOAP AND/OR USE A SANITIZING GEL (Such as Purell), particularly after using sanitary facilities and immediately before handling food.

Additional information can be found on the Spotlight section of, under the Staying Safe After the Storm headline.

Water safety

  • Water should be treated. Many normally safe water sources have been compromised by disruption of treatment facilities or breaks in water lines. In addition to having a bad odor and taste, water may be contaminated by a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and parasites that can cause diarrheal illnesses. Diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis are uncommon in developed countries but can be very serious. Note: Although treating the water is standard, and generally regarded as safe, according to authorities, these directions will not be adequate for treating the water currently in the New Orleans area. You should avoid all contact with these flood waters if possible.
  • To treat water:
    1. Filter the water using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solid particles.
    2. Bring it to a rolling boil for about one full minute.
    3. Let it cool at least 30 minutes.
    OR, if you can't boil:
    1. Add 16 drops of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water. Stir to mix. Sodium hypochlorite of the concentration of 5.25% to 6% should be the only active ingredient in the bleach. Choose bleach with no added soap or fragrances. A major bleach manufacturer has also added sodium hydroxide as an active ingredient, which it states does not pose a health risk for water treatment.
    2. Let treated water stand for 30 minutes.
    3. If the mixture smells of chlorine, it is safe to use. If it does not smell of chlorine, add 16 more drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water (or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water), let stand 30 minutes, and smell it again. If it smells of chlorine, you can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.

Heat Safety

  • Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy. Create your own shade by wearing a hat or using an umbrella.
  • Drink plenty of water. Carry water or juice with you and drink regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician. Generator safety
  • Never use a portable generator indoors, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows will not prevent the buildup of toxic carbon monoxide.
  • Do not connect a generator directly to your home wiring system unless you have taken preparatory steps ahead of time with the assistance of an electrician.

Avoid wounds

  • Wear hard-soled shoes, long pants, sturdy gloves. Wounds open the way for tetanus and other infections that can lead to serious, even life-threatening consequences. Clean a shallow wound with clean water and soap, apply an antiseptic and cover with waterproof bandaging. For a deep wound, seek medical attention.

    Flood water and insects

    • Avoid flood waters; drain standing water. Flood water may contain contaminants from industrial, agricultural or sewage sources. Stagnant water provides breeding sites for mosquitoes, which can carry potentially serious diseases.
    • Protect yourself from mosquitoes. Wear long clothing and use insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin.

    Food safety

  • If in doubt, throw it out. Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water, as well as food that has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours, regardless of whether it remained in a closed refrigerator or freezer.
  • Inspect cans. Throw away food in cans that are bulging, opened or damaged. If cans have come in contact with flood or storm water, remove labels, wash the cans and dip them in a solution of 1 cup of bleach in five gallons of water. Relabel the cans with a marker.

Remember to always follow the advice of your local public health department.

American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of this and thousands of other disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting

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