Melissa Magstadt, South Dakota Secretary of Health
South Dakota Department of Health

Flood Response - Personal Health and Safety

General Precautions

  • Safe drinking water should be a top priority (boil if in doubt). For infants use ready to feed formula or bottled water for mixing formula. Water of drinking quality should be used for food preparation. Clean water should be available for frequent hand washing or bathing.
  • Cook foods thoroughly. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to prevent foodborne illness during cleanup. Discard frozen foods that have thawed.
  • Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves, especially if in direct contact with untreated sewage. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and clean water afterward.
  • Avoid severe sunburn by using sunscreen for prolonged sun exposure.
  • Seek immediate medical guidance in the event of contact with chemical or corrosive substances.
  • Keep litter, garbage, and refuse contained to discourage insects and wild animals.
  • If you are evacuated take your essential medications with you.
  • Avoid driving through flood waters.
  • To prevent the growth of black mold (Stachbotrys), clean and disinfect your home thoroughly after the flood waters recede – including the removal of any insulating material that’s been saturated with flood waters.

Personal Precautions

CONTENTS: Hygiene | Protective Clothing | Diarrheal Disease | Wound Management |
| Immunizations | Insect Pests & Animals |


Following a flood, it can be difficult to maintain good hygiene and cleanliness. Doing so is imperative, however, if the risk of disease is to be minimized.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent the spread of waterborne disease is to always wash your hands with plenty of soap and clean, warm, running water. This is particularly important:

  • before preparing or eating food, handling a baby, smoking, or any other activity that involves touching something that may enter a person’s mouth (Adults should make sure children do the same.);
  • after toilet use;
  • after handling articles contaminated with floodwater or sewage.

When no regular safe water supply is available, use bottled, boiled, or chemically disinfected water for washing hands (and brushing teeth).

Keep wash cloths and dish towels clean. Bacteria can remain on towels and cloths, so wash linen often with clean water and soap.

Parents need to take special care that their children follow these precautions. Do not allow children to play in floodwater or in areas that have been flooded. Wash their hands frequently, especially before meals. Contaminated toys should be disinfected in a solution of 1 ounce of bleach (1/8 cup) in 2 gallons of water. (return to contents)

Protective Clothing

When entering an area that is or has been flooded, it is important to wear protective clothing, such as boots, rubber gloves, and long-sleeved shirts, to help reduce contact with contaminated items. Take care not to step on nails or other protruding items.

Floodwater may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems, and agricultural and industrial by-products. While skin contact with floodwater does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, ingesting anything contaminated with floodwater may cause disease.

Diarrheal Disease

  • Diarrheal diseases may be common during flooding due to disruption in human sewage and overflow of animal manure piles. General symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, malaise, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Consult your doctor if diarrhea, vomiting, or fever develops.
  • If a disease-causing organism is not present in an area (such as typhoid or cholera) and is not introduced after a disaster, the disease poses no threat to the public’s health.
  • Diarrheal diseases are usually food borne or waterborne. The Department of Health actively monitors flood areas for disease outbreaks. (return to contents)

Wound Management

  • Minor wounds should be cleansed thoroughly with soap and clean water, covered, and kept dry while working on cleanup activities. Immunization with tetanus is recommended if it has been more than 10 years since the completion of the series or a previous booster. Serious injuries such as deep lacerations, uncontrolled bleeding, broken bones, etc., require immediate medical attention. For wounds with environmental contamination, immunization with tetanus is recommended if it has been more than 5 years since the completion of the series or a previous booster.
  • If redness, swelling, or drainage occurs at the wound site, seek medical attention. (return to contents)


  • People do not face any unusual risk of developing vaccine-preventable diseases during a flood. There are no recommendations to receive hepatitis A or hepatitis B vaccine as a result of contact with flood water or working in flood areas.
  • Immunization with tetanus (Td) is recommended as appropriate in wound management.

Insect Pests and Animals

  • An increase in mosquitoes or other insects can be expected after flooding. They will be more a nuisance than a public health threat in the weeks immediately following the flooding. To reduce exposure to insects, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and pants with legs tucked into boots. Protect exposed skin and clothing with insect repellent and follow the instructions on the label.
  • The Department of Health monitors flood areas for mosquito-borne or other vector-borne diseases.
  • Wild animals can be forced from their natural habitats by flooding, and many pets and livestock may also be displaced. Take care to avoid these animals, because some may carry rabies; if bitten seek immediate medical attention.
  • Rats may be a problem during and after a flood. Take care to secure all food supplies and remove any animal carcasses.
  • If you are bitten by any animal seek immediate medical attention.
  • Responsibility for the proper disposal of animal carcasses rests with the owner or caretaker under South Dakota State law. These requirements include burning, burial, rendering, or as otherwise prescribed by the State Veterinarian. For further information regarding proper disposal, contact the State Veterinarian at the South Dakota Animal Industry Board at 605-773-3321. (return to contents)
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