Harvey's invisible health dangers

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — There are the threats you can see and the ones you can’t.  People have reported seeing alligators and snakes in and around flooded homes along the gulf coast.  But health experts say it’s the stuff you can’t see in the water that is the bigger threat.

“Our best advice is stay out of the floodwater as much as you possibly can,” warns Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

He says floodwaters can overrun sewage treatment plants, causing raw sewage to flow into the water and eventually into homes and cars.  Chemicals are another problem.   They can leak into the water from industrial sites battered by the storm.  Then there is the paint, oil and other things stored in thousands of flooded homes.

It’s estimated Harvey dropped 15 trillion gallons of water.  Floodwaters have begun to recede, but it could take a long time for everything to dry up.  All the standing water creates a massive breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Some of those mosquitoes are capable of transmitting diseases like the West Nile virus.  According to DSHS statistics, 18 people in Texas died from the virus in 2016.

Van Deusen says the initial fury of the storm likely wiped out the mosquito population.  But now that things are calm, mosquitoes are laying eggs again up and down the coast.  The problem is, no one really knows how bad the problem will be.

“History doesn’t really show a clear example.”

According to Van Deusen, some hurricanes produce more disease-carrying mosquitoes than others and it’s difficult to predict what will happen in the wake of Harvey.  The answer should come in the next few weeks as the eggs being laid now hatch, and those mosquitoes become adults. At that point, samples will be sent to the DSHS labs in Austin to be tested.

“It’s going to be monitoring both the species of mosquitoes to see if it’s the disease carrying type and also testing those mosquitoes to see if they are harboring the virus.”

Health officials are less concerned about the Zika Virus.  Van Deusen says the mosquitoes that carry Zika typically don’t breed in the kind of open water covering Houston and other cities.


Article from KXAN.com

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