Health officials offer safety tips for cleanup


Health Officials and the State Emergency Response Team urge Floridians to practice safety tips when cleaning in and around their homes.  Residents and others working to clean up debris left by recent flooding in Florida’s Panhandle could be at risk of sustaining injuries, and as the warming trend continues could experience heat stress. It is important for all persons involved in clean up to know who may need a tetanus vaccination, and the best ways to avoid heat stress when working outside or in non-air-conditioned buildings.

“Exposure to mold, mosquitoes, water-borne illness, heat exhaustion and dehydration are some of the health risks people may experience,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong. “It is important for everyone to take steps to keep themselves and their family healthy and safe during this time.”


  • Clean up debris to avoid injury and contamination.
  • Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during clean-up of sewage.
  • Be careful about mixing household cleaners and disinfectants. Combining certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury or death.
  • Walls, hard-surfaced floors and many other household surfaces must be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of 1 cup of bleach per 5 gallons of water.
  • Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected such as wall-coverings, cloth and rugs.
  • Drywall and insulation that have been soaked should be removed and discarded so disinfection and drying of the internal wall structure can take place.
  • Items that cannot be washed or dry-cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, may possibly be air dried in the sun and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant. However, these items may need to be discarded.
  • It can be difficult to throw away items in a home, particularly those with sentimental value. However, keeping certain items soaked by sewage or floodwaters may be unhealthy. In general, materials that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24-48 hours should be discarded
  • Wash all linens and clothing in hot water or dry-clean.
  • Thoroughly disinfect surfaces that come in contact with food and children’s play areas.
  • Steam-clean all carpeting. The carpet and padding may ultimately not be salvageable.
  • Fiberboard, fibrous insulation and disposable filters in your heating and air conditioning system should be replaced.
  • Once cleanup is complete, it is important to completely dry out affected items to prevent the growth of mold.
  • Wear shoes to avoid injury to the feet from glass, nails or other sharp objects in or around the home.
  • Chainsaws should only be operated in safe conditions and by people that are experienced in proper use.


If you sustain a wound or deep cut that concerns you, seek medical attention. Make sure to ask your doctor if you need a tetanus booster vaccine.
​Proper wound care is essential for all cuts and lacerations regardless of exposure to floodwaters.

Individuals deployed to work on recovery efforts are encouraged to contact their primary healthcare provider to make sure they are current on their tetanus vaccine.

Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system. It is contracted through a cut or wound that becomes contaminated with tetanus bacteria. The bacteria can penetrate even a tiny pinprick or scratch, but deep puncture wounds or cuts, like those made by nails, knives or barbed-wire, are especially susceptible to infection with tetanus. Tetanus bacteria are found in soil, dust and manure. Infection with tetanus causes severe muscle spasms, leading to “locking” of the jaw so that the patient cannot open his/her mouth or swallow, and may even lead to death by suffocation. Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person. Symptoms usually begin eight days after the infection, yet may range in onset from three days to three weeks.

When high humidity values combine with high temperatures, our bodies think it is hotter than it actually is. This is called the heat index. The heat index is an accurate measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature. A person can experience sunstroke, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and even heatstroke if exposed to these conditions for an extended period of time. Heat exhaustion is a more mild form of heat-related illness that can develop after exposure to high temperatures and inadequate replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are the elderly, people with high blood pressure and people working in a hot environment.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting and fainting. In addition, skin may be cool and moist, pulse rate fast and weak, and breathing fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. If symptoms become more severe or last longer than one hour, seek medical attention immediately. If you suspect you may have heat exhaustion, take the following cooling measures:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Rest in an air-conditioned environment
  • Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath
  • Wear lightweight clothing
  • Prevent sun burn by wearing sunscreen of 30 SPF.

To avoid becoming dehydrated, drink plenty of fluids, especially water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Persons who have medical conditions such as kidney and heart disease, who require a fluid restricted diet, or who have problems with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids.

Children should also keep hydrated by increasing amounts of drinking fluids. Young children and babies may need more fluids than normal daily intake to stay hydrated. Signs of dehydration include thirst, weakness, nausea, muscle cramps, feeling dizzy and light headed, decreased urine levels and/or urine that has a strong odor or is darker in color than normal, tiredness, sluggishness, irritability and headaches. Prevent dehydration by drinking fluids throughout the day. To avoid becoming dehydrated, stay out of the direct sun. People with infants and young children are urged to keep cool by spending time in air-conditioned environments as much as possible. Always consult your physician for all health needs.


  • Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear a hat or to use an umbrella.
  • Drink water. Carry water or juice with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid high-protein foods, which increase metabolic heat.
  • Slow down and avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day – morning hours between 4 and 7 a.m.
  • Stay indoors when possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine. Remember that electric fans do not cool, they simply circulate the air.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check in on elderly residents in your neighborhood and those who do not have air conditioning.
  • Don’t forget your pets. Make sure they have access to water, ventilation and shade.

For additional prevention tips and information, contact your county health department or visit Follow the Florida Department of Health on Twitter at @HealthyFla and on Facebook.

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