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How to stay safe and healthy in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian

The Virginia Department of Health has released tips for food and water safety, as Hurricane Dorian threatens flooding and power outages on Virginia's coast.

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As Hurricane Dorian inches its way past the Carolinas toward Virginia, the state's Department of Health is asking people to be careful in the aftermath of the storm.

Parts of Virginia's coast are expected to feel impacts from the now-Category 2 Dorian late Thursday into Friday, as the system moves north through the Atlantic Ocean.

VDH released a notice on Thursday, September 5 to people in the area, asking them to keep important safety tips in mind, as officials anticipate flooding and power outages in the area.

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Drinking and cooking water

VDH says that hurricanes can contaminate public water supply, especially if they are accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding. 

Drinking contaminated water can cause illness, and people in a hurricane-affected area should not assume that the water there is safe to drink.

As a result, people using public water should listen for announcements regarding the safety of the municipal water supply to make sure it is drinkable. Post-storm, people are also asked:

  • not to use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush their teeth, wash and prepare food, or make ice
  • to drink only bottled, boiled, or treated water until their water supply is tested and deemed safe
  • boil water for one minute to kill harmful bacteria and parasites
  • apply about an 1/8 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water to treat it by mixing thoroughly and letting it stand for about 30 minutes.

People with a private well should consider whether their water may have been contaminated if it was submerged during the hurricane. If so, they should follow a disinfection procedure once the electrical system has been deemed safe. 

After that procedure, bacteriological tests from area certified labs should be conducted to make sure the water has been properly disinfected.

Find out more about private well safety here.

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Contact with water

VDH says skin contact with floodwater alone does not present a serious health risk -- but issues could arise if waters become contaminated with matter like feces, which carries bacteria and viruses.

To try not to get sick, people should:

  • use basic hygiene by washing their hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before preparing or eating food, after using the bathroom, and after flood clean-up
  • avoid eating or drinking anything that has been contaminated with floodwater
  • try not to wade through standing water. If it happens, bathe and then put on clean clothes.
  • avoid contact with floodwaters if they have open cuts or sores. If it's not possible, clean the cuts or sores with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup if there is a backflow of sewage into their home. Then, get rid of household items that may soak up water, like rugs and sheetrock, and clean walls, hard-surfaced floors, and any contact surfaces. Carpeting should be steamed.

If plumbing is slow, try to save water and minimize the use of your washing machine. 

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Food safety

VDH says that the risk of food poisoning becomes higher when refrigerators and ovens stop working following a power outage. To ensure health safety, people should throw away any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more, or any food that has an unusual smell, color, or texture.

Other tips for safe food handling include:

  • keeping a thermometer in the refrigerator and making sure the temperature is 41°F or lower
  • packing plenty of extra ice or freezer packs into a cooler or freezer to make sure it is staying consistently cold
  • using a meat thermometer when cooking to make sure meat reaches appropriate temperatures like 160°F for hamburger and ground meat, 170°F for poultry, and 145 to 160°F for cuts of beef.

VDH also says thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still "refrigerator cold". Eggs and other food should be stored in 41°F temperatures or slightly below. 

Additionally, people should always wash their hands with soap and water that has been boiled and cooled or disinfected. 

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For more safety tips from the VDH regarding natural disasters to prepare for potential effects from Dorian, click here, or visit the Virginia Department of Emergency Management's website.

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