Following heavy rain events this week, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds people to take precautions to avoid flooded areas, and once the sun comes out, be aware of potential health risks before you participate in recreational water activities.
Heavy rains can increase the risk of exposure to animal waste and inadequately treated wastewater from sewage treatment plants. Bacteria, debris and other pollutants are collected by rainwater as it travels over the land and ends up in rivers, lakes and streams. This mix of rain and pollution can pose risks to human health and safety. Rain events also cause flooding and fast-moving waters, especially in low-lying areas.
The most common illnesses from contaminated water are gastrointestinal illnesses. This may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. These illnesses result from swallowing water contaminated by disease-causing microbiological organisms. Additionally, contact with contaminated water has the potential to cause upper respiratory (ear, nose, throat) and skin infections.
What to do
Use the following recommendations from VDH to keep you and your family safe following heavy rain events:
- Use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary risks if you encounter covered roads or fast-moving waters. The water may be deeper and moving faster than you think.
- Floodwaters may contain debris that can break the skin or entrap legs and arms.
- Avoid swimming or wading in ditches, streams, and rivers for at least three days following a typical rain event. During flood events, avoid swimming and wading until waters return to normal levels.
- Do not swim or wade if you have broken skin. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can infect wounds causing more serious illness.
- Avoid getting water in your mouth. Never swallow water from an untreated water source.
- Shower with soap and water after swimming or wading in natural waters. Floodwaters are more likely to contain high levels of bacteria and other pollutants.
- If you have an underlying illness like diabetes, liver disease, or cancer, you are more vulnerable to infections. Consider avoiding swimming or wading in natural waters and avoid floodwaters.
- Avoid swimming if dead fish are present.
Residents or facilities that provide water to the public including campgrounds, restaurants, summer camps, or daycares with private wells or septic systems submerged by floodwaters should also take extra precautions.
Information and safety tips regarding private wells and septic systems can be found at www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/onsite-sewage-water-services-updated/before-and-after-the-storm-private-wells-and-onsite-sewage-systems/
To find the location of local sewer treatment facilities, contact your local public works department.
For more information regarding recreation water safety tips, including the Virginia Department of Health’s “Safely Enjoy Virginia’s Natural Waters” brochure, visit: www.SwimHealthyVA.com or contact your local health department at www.vdh.virginia.gov.