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Health department offers tips for staying healthy after a flood or sewage back-up

Mohawk Square, home of CG Health Dept.

MASON CITY – If you are faced with cleaning up an area that has been flooded or contaminated with sewage, you may be concerned about the health risks associated with the clean-up. There are bacteria that can be transmitted by contact with flood water or sewage. These bacteria include:

  • Campylobacter
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Enteroviruses
  • E. Coli
  • Pinworms
  • Hepatitis A
  • Giardia
  • Rotavirus
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella

How do people get an illness from flood water or sewage?

The illnesses people get from the bacteria listed above are called fecal-oral disease. People get these diseases when they get feces or stool in their mouth, often from dirty hands. Fecal-oral diseases are spread in two ways:

  • Direct contact with flood water, sewage, or a person with a fecal-oral disease.
  • Indirect contact with flood water and sewage by using objects like toys or furniture or eating food that has touched flood water or sewage.

Fecal-oral diseases are infections of the intestinal tract. The incubation period for a fecal-oral disease is usually 1 to 3 days.  Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea

If persons cleaning up flooded areas or contaminated sewage develop these symptoms that last longer than two days, they should call their medical provider. If a child under one year of age gets these symptoms, call the medical provider right away.

What can be done to prevent a fecal-oral disease?

  1. Wash your hands before eating and after toilet use, clean-up activities, or handling items contaminated by floodwater or sewage.
  • Wash hands under warm running water.
  • Use liquid soap.
  • Lather hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Dry hands with a paper towel.
  1. Follow appropriate sanitizing procedures.
  • Put 8 tablespoons of laundry bleach in each gallon of water used to sanitize contaminated areas and objects.
  • Discard cloth items that cannot be laundered, like stuffed animal toys or pillows.
  • Open windows and use fans to ventilate the contaminated area.
  • Keep pets out of the flooded area to prevent them from tracking sewage to other areas.
  1. Do not allow children to play in floodwater or with toys that are contaminated by floodwater.

Do I need additional immunizations or vaccinations?

No, as long as individuals exposed to sewage or flood waters are up-to-date with their immunizations and/or vaccinations.

  • Adults are generally advised to get a routine tetanus booster every 10 years.
  • Children should get a basic series of 4 shots between 2 months and 18 months of age, and a booster shot at 4-6 years and 11-12 years of age.

People who sustain some type of wound should check with their health care provider promptly to see if they need a shot. That decision will depend on an assessment of the wound and the patient’s past immunization history.

  • People who sustain puncture wounds or wounds that may be contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva may need to receive a tetanus shot.  A tetanus shot will be recommended if they haven’t had one within the last 5 years.
  • People who sustain clean, minor wounds may still need to receive a tetanus shot. A tetanus shot will be recommended if they haven’t had one in the past 10 years.


  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Wear personal protective equipment, including rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles during cleanup of affected area.
  • While cleaning up areas with mold damage, wear a NIOSH-approved N-95 respirator, or one that provides even more protection.
  • Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as, mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and most paper products).
  • Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
  • This should include material that are located a foot higher than the high water line.
  • Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.
  • Help the drying process by using fans, air conditioning units, and dehumidifiers.
  • After completing the cleanup, wash your hands with soap and clean water.
  • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent. It is recommended that a laundromat be used for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your onsite waste-water system has been professionally inspected and serviced.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill. 

How do I prevent mold growth?

  • Clean up and dry out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building. Position fans to blow air out doors or windows.
  • When in doubt, take it out! Remove all porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried. These items can remain a source of mold growth and should be removed from the home. Porous, noncleanable items include carpeting and carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation material, some clothing, leather, paper, wood, and food. Removal and cleaning are important because even dead mold may cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water.
  • Homeowners may want to temporarily store items outside of the home until insurance claims can be filed. See recommendations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

People at Greatest Risk from Mold

  • People with asthma, allergies, or other breathing conditions may be more sensitive to mold.
  • People with immune suppression (such as people with HIV infection, cancer patients taking chemotherapy, and people who have received an organ transplant) are more susceptible to mold infections. People with a weakened immune system, especially people receiving treatment for cancer, people who have had an organ or stem cell transplant, and people taking medicines that suppress the immune system, should avoid cleaning up mold. Children under 12 should not enter a building with mold damage.

Possible Health Effects of Mold Exposure

People who are sensitive to mold may experience stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, or skin irritation. People allergic to mold may have difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. People with weakened immune systems and with chronic lung diseases, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs. If you or your family members have health problems after exposure to mold, contact your doctor or other health care provider.

For more flood, sewage, or mold clean-up information, contact the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health at 641-421-9300.

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