Health experts warn public against playing and bathing in floodwaters to prevent disease risks

Keadaan Jalan Meranti - Rantau Panjang di Kampung Bakong, Pasir Mas yang masih dinaiki air petang semalam. - Foto oleh ZULHANIFA SIDEK

KUALA LUMPUR: Health experts warned members of the public to refrain from playing and bathing in floodwaters or affected areas due to the potential susceptibility to diseases caused by microbes in the contaminated water.

Public health medical expert from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Professor Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh, said flood water may get contaminated with organisms released from human or animal excreta, such as faeces, urine and body parts, containing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

“These can lead to foodborne diseases and gastroenteritis due to contaminated water and food; respiratory diseases such as viral fever, cough and cold; or vector-borne diseases such as dengue or leptospirosis, which are secondary to stagnant water or litter.

“Besides that, there is the risk of drowning or electrocution, especially among young children and hypothermia among the elderly,” Dr Sharifa told the New Straits Times.

She advised the public to avoid playing and swimming in floodwaters, emphasising the presence of potential hazards such as snakes, electric wires, and sharp sticks.

“Please drink or cook boiled water and clean food. Once the flood water subsides, do not litter and clear stagnant water, as it might become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies and rats.

“For those congregated in flood relief centres, stay vigilant on the possibility of Covid-19 or other respiratory infection breakouts. This could be prevented by obtaining prior vaccinations, such as against Covid-19, influenza and hepatitis,” she added.

Echoing Dr Sharifa, Monash University’s molecular virologist, Associate Professor Dr Vinod Balasubramaniam underscored the importance of hygiene practices, emphasising that individuals can reduce the risk of infections and health complications linked with floods and contaminated meals.

He advised the public to always practice good hygiene by thoroughly washing their hands with uncontaminated water and soap.

Hand sanitiser, he said, is a good second choice if clean water and soap are not available.

Among other precautions, he recommended not bathing in water that may be contaminated with sewage or toxic chemicals, including rivers, streams, or lakes contaminated by floodwater.

As for diseases, while leptospirosis is usually rare in the general population, there is often an upswing in cases after floods.

“Symptoms of leptospirosis include muscle pain, fever and headaches, and it is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira.

“Tetanus, caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which lives in soil and animal faeces, can occur through contamination of cuts and scrapes caused by things in contact with soil, including floodwaters,” he added.

He added that tetanus symptoms include weakness, stiffness and cramps, with the toxins released leading to muscular paralysis and difficulty chewing and swallowing.

“Apart from that, if you accidentally swallow some floodwater or have even a small cut on your skin, disease-causing bacteria, fungi and viruses can enter your body and make you sick.

“Most of these diseases can be treated with antibiotics, and some are preventable by vaccines, but if treatment is left too long, then there is a risk of an infection becoming much more serious, including the development of sepsis,” he said.

Regarding food prepared during a flood or in an unhygienic manner, Dr Vinod stressed that it poses a huge risk of contamination with bacteria that cause diseases.

Source: New Straits Times


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