The risk of coming into contact with free-standing water and puddles is increased during flood events. As these bodies of water can be the source of diseases such as leptospirosis and salmonella, there's a higher risk of becoming sick.

Due to health and safety concerns following flood events, we're going to take a look at two common illnesses that people are at higher risk of during said flood events: salmonella and leptospirosis.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella infection is a type of gastroenteritis (or ‘gastro’). It is caused by a bacteria called Salmonella and is most likely to occur after eating foods that have been contaminated or in some cases when you have come into contact with someone who has the infection themselves. For flood events, it is likely to occur due to the contamination of water caused by sewage outflow systems and waste run-off areas, contamination of surfaces and items by dirty floodwater, and the handling of animals (both farm animals and household pets).

This illness usually lasts between four to seven days while symptoms often start six to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella?

Symptoms can include:

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Stomach cramps

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Loss of appetite

What causes Salmonella and how is it spread?

For flood-specific scenarios, drinking contaminated water can cause salmonella. This is due to water becoming contaminated from sewage outflow systems and waste run-off from grazed pastures. Salmonella can also be contracted simply by swimming or playing in contaminated water.

Salmonella bacteria can also spread through another person's hands, so it's always important to wash your hands thoroughly, whether it's after handling food or animals and cleaning up flood debris.

Salmonella is also found in the faeces of many animals (such as farm animals and household pets) and directly handling infected animals can cause the disease to spread. As such it's important to wash your hands thoroughly after handling animals.

How can Salmonella be prevented during and after a flood event?

It's important to maintain hygiene practices during and after a flood event. This includes:

  • Washing your hands thoroughly especially:

    • Before and after preparing food

    • After going to the toilet or changing a baby’s nappy

    • After caring for people who are ill

    • After playing or working with animals

    • After cleaning up surfaces that have been in contact with contaminated floodwater.

  • Cleaning surfaces and toys thoroughly.

  • Taking care when preparing and cooking food.

  • Always wearing gloves when cleaning surfaces and any products that have been contaminated by flood water or water runoff.

How is Salmonella treated?

Salmonella infections are usually treated with antibiotics. However, in some cases, the infection may clear up on its own without treatment. The type of antibiotic and the duration of treatment will depend on the severity of the infection, the age and overall health of the patient, and the type of Salmonella bacteria causing the infection.

It's important to note that antibiotics may not be necessary for all cases of Salmonella infection. In fact, some strains of Salmonella are becoming resistant to antibiotics, so it's important to only use antibiotics when necessary and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

In addition to antibiotics, it's also important to stay hydrated and rest to help the body fight off the infection. Most people recover from Salmonella infections within a week, but in severe cases, hospitalisation may be necessary to prevent dehydration and other complications.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria leptospires, which live in the kidneys and genitals of many types of animals. Infection is caused by contact with the urine of these animals or contact with water that's contaminated by the infected urine. The bacteria enters the body through cuts on the skin or through your nose, mouth and eyes.

There's a higher risk of contracting leptospirosis during flood events due to the increase of water bodies and cross-contamination of water. Outside of flood events, workers in the meat processing industry, farmers working with animals, and veterinarians are at the most risk of catching the disease due to being in close proximity to animals through their work.

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

Symptoms are minor and flu-like, but can be serious. Initial signs can include:

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Myalgia

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhoea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Meningitis

  • Cough

  • Conjunctival suffusion.

Signs and symptoms of severe disease can include jaundice, renal failure, haemorrhage, pneumonitis and haemodynamic collapse.

How is leptospirosis treated?

Early treatment is important in order to prevent the illness from becoming severe. If you are showing symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

The general course of treatment is antibiotics, though hospital admittance may be required depending on how serious the illness is. For serious complications, dialysis or breathing support through a ventilator may be required.

How can leptospirosis be prevented?

You can protect yourself by being careful in risky environments (and therefore avoid contact with infected animal urine), by:

  • Covering and cleaning any cuts on your skin.

  • Wearing personal protective equipment in high-risk workplaces, such as farms, vets, forests or the bush.

  • Washing hands after animal contact and before you eat or drink.

  • Following animal vaccination programmes as there is no vaccine for humans.

  • Avoiding swimming in ponds, lakes or rivers.

  • Avoid contact with water bodies and puddles during a flood event.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: NSW Health, HealthDirect, HealthNavigator NZ, and 1news

Image credit: Fire and Emergency NZ at Facebook

All content in Sonder's Help Centre is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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