Five health threats and epidemics after natural disasters

Physical Injuries and Infection

Earthquakes, rising waters, and high winds can all cause immediate physical threats, but injuries can happen even before a natural disaster happens. In 2005, Hurricane Rita hadn’t even made landfall when dozens of people died during an evacuation of Houston and the Texas coast. Fleeing an emergency carries its own risks, and the sheer number of frightened people involved in a major city evacuation practically guarantees some number of incidents will occur on the road. For example, during Rita, 23 people were killed in a single bus fire. Overloaded roads present a further hazard when traffic inevitably slows or stops. Gridlock can leave evacuees vulnerable in their vehicles when the storm hits.

Similarly, building collapses or windswept debris don’t just cause injuries during a serious weather event. Even after an event is over, structures can become unstable and collapse hours, days, or even weeks later. This is particularly true in the case of earthquakes when aftershocks push structures past their breaking point and result in rescue workers being exposed to new hazards.

Wading through flood water can also lead to a host of injuries. Without being able to see where you’re walking or swimming, you could fall through an uncovered manhole, trip on uneven ground, or get cut by sharp objects underwater. There could also be dangerous creatures swimming unnoticed beside you. When flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017, residents reported seeing alligators, snakes, and even balls of floating fire ants in the floodwaters.

Even if an injury isn’t life-threatening at the time, it can be later if not properly cared for. But in the wake of a disastrous event, clean water and bandages to disinfect and dress a wound can be in short supply, and a resulting infection can turn deadly. Tetanus, in particular, is a major concern in the wake of disasters. The bacteria live in dirt and dust—both of which often get kicked up or swept into water supplies during a major event. If they make their way into an open wound, it can have fatal consequences.

Tetanus shots can help prevent this from happening, but when medical personnel and supplies are stretched thin, vaccines can take a backseat to more pressing concerns. That’s why it’s so important to stay up-to-date on your shots before a natural disaster looms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *