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Health Team

Volunteers, emergency crews face danger in hurricane-hit areas

Posted September 15

Survivors of Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Harvey in east Texas aren't the only ones knee deep in recovery. Many power crews, builders and volunteers from North Carolina are also there.

North Carolinians who've recovered from past storms, such as the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew last year, know the risks that come after the storm has passed. One common risk is when people are walking through water.

"There are organisms in the water; funny sounding names like vibrio and aeromonas (bacterias) that can cause local, very severe wound infections—a sort of flesh eating bacteria," said Dr. David Weber at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's infectious disease department.

With all the clean up of debris, there is also the risk of getting cut.

"If you get a puncture wound, staph infection, strep infection, including gangrenous infections from strep can occur as well," Weber said.

Weber said water sources in hurricane recovery zones may not be safe for drinking unless that water is boiled first.

Another place where disease could spread is at shelters where many people may stay for months. The cold virus, the flu, pertussis and tuberculosis can spread quickly with people packed into close quarters.

Another threat awaits volunteers and workers who travel to hurricane-damaged islands south of Florida.

"In places where people are not highly immunized, things like chicken pox, measles, mumps can certainly spread that way," Weber said.

Weber said the key for those planning to help out in hurricane recovery areas is to prepare ahead of time. People should get vaccinations up to date, including tetanus. Make sure there is a safe, plentiful supply of drinking water, and bring plenty of insect repellant to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne illness.

WRAL Health Team's Dr. Allen Mask said after recovery, many victims—and sometimes recovery workers themselves—face other problems, like post-traumatic stress.

Mask said people need to recognize the symptoms, such as nightmares and flashbacks, as well as emotional numbness and avoidance of place, people and activities that are the reminders of trauma.

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