Humans are immensely resilient by nature. It’s actually an understatement considering what we have gone through over the years to evolve as the modern thinkers that we are today. Although we are not perfect by nature, we have overcome so many challenges already and have emerged as the most superior species on land. It wasn’t a walk in the park to build the skyscrapers we are looking up to today or all the technologies we are taking for granted now. If there is one thing we have not yet made fool-proof, though, it is our health.
Human health is not always fragile but it is plagued by numerous diseases and conditions that make living a bit more challenging for some of us. Some don’t worry about their health at all and abuse their bodies in ways you can never imagine and there are those who are always sickly and easily prone to infections and diseases. There are numerous factors that impact our health. The environment is one of those seeing how our immediate surroundings is a big variable to certain diseases. Now, with the recent flooding all across Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the focus here shouldn’t entirely be about disaster relief and recovery but on the immediate needs of the people to safeguard their health from getting water-borne diseases.
The devastating floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey will damage many human habitats, but after the flood recedes, the waterlogged city may become a more welcoming habitat for mosquitoes. And that means that residents already made vulnerable by the hurricane might also eventually be at increased risk for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus and Zika.
West Nile virus has been endemic in Texas since 2002. In 2016, the state had 370 cases; so far in 2017, there have been 36 confirmed cases. Harris County, where Houston is located, has seen cases of West Nile in humans this year, and detected the virus in local mosquitoes.
Texas has also had 22 Zika cases in 2017, although local transmission has only been detected in Brownsville, a city on the Gulf Coast close to the Mexican border.
It is highly probably for humans to get infected by contaminated water during natural calamities. Although it is not that big of a threat to many, the risk remains and there are casualties even if just a handful. Mosquitoes are known vectors of disease-carrying germs and they love to stay and breed in stagnant water – pretty much what the rest of Texas looks like right now after being ravaged by the recent hurricane. Then, temporary shelters aren’t always the most comfortable of places although they give you the peace of mind that you are out of imminent danger. Many end up sick in such crowded conditions where facilities aren’t always the cleanest.
Flood water – a nasty cocktail of chemicals, heavy metals, sewage, debris and wildlife – was still pouring into people’s homes on Tuesday. Social media overflowed with images of people being rescued via jet ski, canoe and fishing boat.
Twelve hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated by Tuesday. Some emergency medical services were coming back online in Corpus Christi and Victoria.
“Aside from just the general public health functions, we also help coordinate medical transportation, assisting and coordinating and evacuating hospitals,” said Van Deusen. “We have been moving ambulances, ambulance buses, and we’re staging some helicopters,” he said.
Public officials are taking these efforts seriously just as much as they do on relief and rehabilitation initiatives because human life always comes first. Water may be life but it can also mean death to some unfortunate citizens of Texas who have been living under floodwaters for days now.
Stagnant water is a breeding ground for all sorts of microscopic pathogens. Pritish Tosh, an infectious diseases physician and researcher at the Mayo Clinic, says hurricane floodwaters may be contaminated with pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal illness. Other bacterium found in floodwaters include Shigella, which can also cause gastrointestinal illness in the form of diarrhea, vomiting, fever, stomach pain and dehydration.
Bacterial illnesses are a common and anticipated problem after epic hurricanes. A survey in the aftermath of Katrina identified cases of Vibrio illness caused by V. vulnificus, V. parahaemolyticus and other bacteria. Those bacterial illnesses led to a handful of fatalities.
Aside from the immediate risks you get from exposure to floodwater, going back to homes that have been flooded has become a breeding ground for mold that is a serious health risk as well. In a humid state like Texas, it can mean a rise in lung-related conditions like asthma attacks. It will also take time before homes are cleared of floodwater and become healthy living spaces once more. The storm may have passed but the suffering lives on and continues to test mankind’s resiliency to the wrath of nature.