Common Health Risks Following a Typhoon
Carlo Modequillo (The Freeman) - September 17, 2018 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — The rest of the country outside of Luzon is lucky enough to have been spared from the recent Typhoon “Ompong.” In Cebu and on the other islands in the Visayas, the downpours and gusty winds were not able to cause widespread damage. Even in the very areas of Luzon where damage was anticipated, it turned out not as bad as earlier feared.

But the toll does not stop as soon as the weather improves. Following a typhoon, there are always discomforts and inconveniences to be expected in the affected areas. If not catastrophic damage to homes, businesses, and communities, there are the increased risks to the health and wellbeing of the people. A typhoon always poses a public health threat.

The website www.air-worldwide.com explains: “[People] may be exposed to chemicals or infectious disease pathogens through contaminated floodwater. In addition, [they may be] forced to relocate to shelters and confined to crowded spaces – frequently without adequate access to clean water, fresh air, or healthy food, and other basic necessities that promote hygiene – are also at risk of contracting disease.”

In addition, major typhoons also put individuals with chronic conditions in greater danger from disrupted access to medicine and routine treatments. Overall, the www.air-worldwide.com website sees key areas of concern:

Contaminated Water

There is often the increased chance of food- and waterborne disease outbreaks after a typhoon. This can result from sewage system failures, causing contaminated floodwater to mix with rainwater.  For example, the possibility of E. coli contamination can be higher. Cholera – a highly pathogenic, waterborne disease – can be a real concern, along with leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals and commonly transmitted by infected rats through floodwaters.

Exposure to floodwater can also increase the risk of skin rashes; ear, nose, and throat problems; and conjunctivitis, although according to the World Health Organization, none of these are epidemic-prone. Neither is tetanus, which is caused by suffering a deep wound that gets infected which has a better chance of happening when walking through standing floodwater full of debris, especially when barefoot.

Mosquitoes

The high winds and flash floods during a typhoon can momentarily cause the mosquito population to decline. But the moist environment and pools of standing water following a typhoon become ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In fact, health officials always ask residents to clear standing water from tires, buckets, and even from outdoor dog bowls and bird trays. A growth in mosquito populations can bring on an increase in mosquito-borne diseases, including Zika virus, dengue fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya virus, and malaria, in flooded areas.

Airborne Pathogens

Airborne pathogens and foreign agents pose serious health risks to typhoon-affected populations. Dangers can range from inhaling carbon monoxide from a portable generator running indoors to breathing in mold spores growing in flooded structures. Mold is frequently found in low-income neighborhoods that do not have access to necessary cleaning supplies.

Flooding introduces a new ecosystem for fungal growth, which can have long-term health implications. Living or working in an affected building can have significant health impacts, including exacerbation of allergies and asthma, as well as immunological reactions.

As it is, damage from a typhoon is not limited to the actual loss of lives, homes, and crops when the strong winds and rains strike. There are wide-ranging impacts that go far beyond the immediate losses. The health impacts for affected communities can be as bad or even worse.

Proper preparation and precaution can go a long way to significantly decrease preventable mortalities and reduce long-lasting health impacts following a typhoon.

TYPHOON OMPONG
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