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Tip Sheets

After the storm: Reporting on the health impacts of flooding

With floods come major health risks, including drowning, injury, contamination or shortages of water and food, infectious diseases, extreme heat and mental stress. There are a number of resources available to reporters covering the health effects of flooding in the Midwest.

Sinkhole in Iowa
A sinkhole in New Hartford, Iowa, swallowed most of one car and part of another.
Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA

Health impacts of flooding

Flood Hazards and Health: Responding to Present and Future Risks, edited by Roger Few and Franziska Matthies (2006)
(Much of this book is available if you follow the link above and then hit the "Preview this book" button below the book cover image.)
Chapters include:

  • The Health Impacts of Floods
  • Responses to the Health Risks from Flooding
  • The Mental Health Aspects of Floods: Evidence from England and Wales
  • The Mozambique Floods of 2000: Health Impact and Response
  • Flooding in the U.S.: Responses from Government and the Medical and Public Health Sectors

Medscape has a clinical update that reviews diseases in the context of disasters, such as hurricanes and flooding, including specific pathogens, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Relevant sections include:

The World Health Organization has a Technical Hazard Sheet on floods that discusses causes of morbidity and mortality.

The International Disaster Database (EM-DAT) produced by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) provides methodologically compiled data on global disasters. "Thirty years of natural disasters 1974-2003: The numbers" (PDF, 5.2 MB) uses data from EM-DAT to look at disasters, including a chapter about epidemics after disasters (page 47).

Pallets of bottled water
Pallets of bottled water have been provided to the residents of Mason City, Iowa, after their water supply was contaminated by flood waters.
Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Carbon monoxide poisoning

As people return to their homes they may begin using generators, which increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution or fire if they are used improperly. The EPA has information about CO poisoning, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has tips on using generators correctly and the U.S. Fire Administration has a fact sheet on portable generaor safety.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Gasoline-Powered Engines: Risk Perception among Midwest Flood Victims – This letter to the editor in the American Journal of Public Health assessed risk perceptions related to carbon monoxide hazards resulting from indoor flood-related cleanup efforts in 1993. A surprising number of people incorrectly replied that using a gas generator would be safe if a window were open or that it would be safe if windows and doors were open and an exhaust fan was running.

Academic literature

The Effects of a Natural Disaster on Child Behavior: Evidence for Posttraumatic Stress; American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 83, Issue 11 1549-1553.

Preventable Deaths Related to Floods, a letter to the editor in the American Journal of Public Health, November 1987

An analysis of the causes and circumstances of flood disaster deaths, Disasters, 2005

The Rapid Implementation of a Statewide Emergency Health Information System during the 1993 Iowa Flood, American Journal of Public Health, April 1995

Addressing environmental health implications of mold exposure after major flooding; American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, March 2008

Medical interventions following natural disasters: Missing out on chronic medical needs; Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, 2007

Public health assessments in disaster settings: recommendations for a multidisciplinary approach; Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, Oct.-Dec. 2000

Federal information

The Federal Emergency Management Administration has information about floods.

The CDC has information about health concerns during floods and the aftermath. The CDC's Strategic National Stockpile has large quantities of medicine and medical supplies to protect the American public if there is a public health emergency (terrorist attack, flu outbreak, earthquake) severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.

The CDC has recommendations for cleanup and safety after a flood:

The Environmental Protection Agency has tips on "Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems (PDF)."