Hurricane Health and How You Can Help.
2017 has brought with it a extraordinary hurricane season with category 4 and 5 storms ripping through the Caribbean. Those of us in the West Indies fortunate not to be directly affected or touched by the storm are still at least 2 degrees away from those who have been. While we can not truly know what the hurricane affected countries are experiencing, we can make ourselves aware of the concerns that they are facing and try to contribute towards helping them rebuild their lives by playing our part in ensuring that their basic human needs are being taken care of and met.
After a hurricane, communities are forced to live in areas where structures are unsafe. Families are displaced from their affected homes. And the rains, rivers, lagoons, oceans, lakes, and other bodies of that were once viciously active now settle in the lands, stagnant and dangerous. Flood waters are one of the main concerns for those dealing with the aftermath of the hurricanes and pose a great danger to the health and wellbeing of these communities.
Waters are likely to be contaminated with fecal matter from burst sewage systems and cisterns, animal and human carcasses that have not yet been removed and chemicals from industrial structures. Home furnishings and surfaces will also be covered with fungi from the standing waters and mold can permeate the air causing respiratory infections. As a result, affected communities are at risk for water, air and animal borne infections and illnesses and may experience stomach and respiratory problems.
How can we help?
Already there have been many calls to action to gather supplies for these communities. There are collections of:
- Clothes and footwear, victims will have lost most of their belongings in the storm, clean clothes help provide physical and mental comfort while footwear helps protect feet and prevent the spread of disease that can be caused by stepping on sharp object hidden by the flood waters and debris.
- Sealed beverages (e.g.: bottled water, bottled juices, tinned tea and coffee) and food items (canned foods, dried foods). Sending sealed items ensures that food is less likely to be contaminated as clean up efforts are in progress. Non-perishables allows the food to be rationed and last longer during the time of chaos.
Some other items that are useful are:
- sealed mattresses and pillows, many mattresses and pillows will be saturated with flood water and will be breeding grounds for fungi and mold.
- Clean blankets and bedding, will help keep victims warm helping to stave off chills, colds, and more serious infections while providing some physical and emotional/mental health.
- Soap, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine products and other personal hygiene products, often we forget that personal health items are also needed.
Specific items that are useful:
- Oral Rehydration Salts, are useful as stomach problems like diahorrea and vomiting will be likely in affected communities. This will help restore an affected person with electrolytes preventing dehydration and other consequences of gastro.
- Painkillers, for example acetaminophen, will be helpful as all medications should have been disposed of to prevent the ingestion of contaminated medicines. Acetaminophen, specifically, is useful for the treatment of headaches, muscle cramps, colds, and fevers all of which are likely to be concerns for both those affected by the storms and those involved in clean up efforts [https://www.drugs.com/acetaminophen.html]. - Check with aid organizations before sending any kind of medication.
- Mosquito repellants and candles, on-body bug repellant (like OFF) and candles (like citronella) will be needed to help protect persons from the increased mosquito and bug population that will result from stagnant flood waters and water-logged soft furnishing that carry diseases like dengue, yellow fever, etc. Mosquito nets are also useful for this situation in sizes that can accommodate adults, children, and babies.
- Calamine lotion and cortisone creams, will be useful as many will likely develop rashes in addition to suffering from bug bites.
- Large sealable bags, will help protect items from being contaminated by rodents which carry serious infections like leptospirosis [https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html]
- Antibacterial cleaning products, can be useful for individuals and families while larger clean up efforts are being conducted.
- Comfort or calming items, these are especially important and often forgotten in favour of meeting practical needs. Comfort items refers to anything that may help ease the mental and emotional trauma of all affected persons, for example, clean toys may be useful to calm children who cannot play with their own toys due to possible contamination and may also consequently provide a tiny amount of ease for care-takers.
Useful items for clean up efforts:
- Rubber boots and gloves, are extremely useful during the clean up efforts to protect the bodies of those braving the chaos to clean their homes and communities.
- Disinfectants, bleach, and other cleaning supplies, these items are needed to clean all contaminated surfaces in homes. Floors, walls, childrens’ toys, hard and soft furnishings like stoves, fridges, tables, sofas, curtains, rugs, and anything else that is salvageable will need to be wiped down and thoroughly washed to prevent the spread of disease.
- Household bug sprays, as there will also be an increase in ants, scorpions, centipedes, and the like.
The above lists are simply suggestions of ways that we can contribute to the help efforts going out to those in need. Money is also very useful as these funds can be allocated by those on the ground who can determine what is needed for the affected communities. Contributions to organizations can be used buy supplies and things needed that have not been given to them simply because we cannot predict every thing that will be needed.
Mental & Emotional Health:
It is also important to remember that while we may be able to provide items that will contribute to a persons physical health, that many will also be suffering mentally and emotionally from the trauma that they have experienced. These are more difficult needs to meet. By contributing to efforts to keep victims fed, hydrated, healthy, and somewhat comfortable now, we are hopefully also helping to reduce the levels of stress, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health issues that will occur.
Once the immediate and practical efforts have slowed down, hopefully more attention can be focused on providing mental and emotional support for affected communities.
Here are some links to learn more about some health concerns that may arise when dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes and other strong storms.
Useful & related links:
Flooding and communicable diseases:
Mental and emotional health:
Relief Aid Efforts in the Caribbean: