What Diseases can be caused by Flood Waters?

flood water
Flood waters are a dangerous environmental hazard for many reasons. Flood conditions are typically described as being times during which water covers and submerges land that is normally dry. Flooding is usually caused by increased rainfall or storm conditions during which normal bodies of water (such as rivers or coastlines) overflow into surrounding areas. In addition to the environmental and structural damage that can be caused, flood waters can also directly and indirectly impact human health because of the possible increased presence of communicable diseases. Flooding is often associated somehow with higher risks of infections during times in which there is population displacement or water sources become compromised. With any flood, there is the potential of a large increase in the number of and the spread of communicable diseases (particularly water-borne diseases).

The first "class of diseases" that can be caused by flooding are water-borne diseases. The major risk factor involved here is the possibility of contamination of drinking-water or other water based facilities in the surrounding areas. Examples of this have occurred in the United States, China, and India during various flood conditions. Water-borne diseases are diseases that are caused by the contamination of fresh water sources by pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria. This class includes a large number of sub-classes including bacteria, protozoans, parasites, and viruses. Among these various classes are a large number of dangerous and communicable diseases including acute Hepatitis A (virus), SARS (caused by Coronavirus), Typhoid fever (caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi), Salmonellosis (caused by bacteria in the genus Salmonella), dysentary, cholera, and E. coli infection, among others. The very large number and variety of water-borne diseases that could be spread due to flood waters make control of those waters and proper safety protocols essential for maintaining health and safety in affected areas. Here is a list of all water-borne diseases with more details about them.

The second class of diseases that can arise from flood waters is more indirect. These are known as vector borne diseases. In the study of disease and epidemiology, a vector is described as an agent (as in: person, animal, microorganism, etc.) that carries (actively or passively) and transmits pathogens to another organism. This is a method of transfer of a pathogen between hosts. Often, arthropods act as vectors between domestic or wild animals and humans. Arthropods include many possible vectors including mosquitos, lice, ticks, mites, and sand flies. These vectors often feed on blood during one or more stages of their lives and, through feeding, are able to infect their host.

Often, this infection is simply a bi-product of the feeding and not something that is actively done, as the vectors are usually not affected by the diseases that they carry. During flood conditions, vector borne diseases are greatly increased (indirectly) through the expansion of the range and number of available habitats for vectors. Flood waters provide new habitats for vectors like mosquitos to multiply in greater numbers and the changes in the behavioral patterns of humans (such as sleeping outside, no access to bug spray, changes in diet) can lead to increased opportunity for infection by these vectors. Diseases typically transmitted by vectors can include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile Fever, among others.

In addition to water-borne and vector based diseases, there is also the potential for danger to those health workers who deal with corpses of humans who perished during the flood conditions. There is an increased risk of contracting diseases such as tuberculosis, some blood borne viruses, and infections of the gastrointestinal tract.

Flood waters are a very dangerous environmental condition, even after the initial flooding has passed. Through an increase in water borne disease and disease vectors, flooding has the potential to be very dangerous for human health and safety. The important thing is to remember the dangers that are potentially out there and to maintain your own personal safety standards. Remember the effects that changes in human behavior and environmental conditions can have on your own health.

Related information

Preventing and controlling infectious diseases after flood like natural disasters
New water filter ready to battle water-borne diseases
The Human Impact of Floods: a Historical Review of Events 1980-2009 and Systematic Literature Review
Top 10 Worst Floods of all Time
Did a Comet Cause the Great Flood?

Written by : Alexander Maness, United Stated (M.S. in Biotechnology )

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice