Skip to main content

Barwon Health / Barwon South West Public Health Unit

(03) 4215 4000

Protecting your health after flooding

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Floods present many potential health hazards. Emergency workers and other support staff should ensure that members of the public are aware of the potential risks when they return to their homes after a flooding event.

A range of material is available to provide to people who have been affected by floods. When people are planning to return to their homes after the flood waters have subsided, and the risks from floods waters have reduced to a level that is considered safe, there may still be many potential health hazards.

General health information:
• Skin contact with floodwater and mud from floodwater can cause illness and skin infections. If you are injured or suffer a cut during your clean up; clean the wound and contact your doctor immediately.

• Flooding can cause sewage to overflow inside your home. Contact with sewage can make people sick, so contaminated areas must be cleaned and disinfected. And it is best to keep children and pets away until the area is cleaned up.

• People’s private water supplies may also be contaminated from floodwater, debris and chemicals. If your water supply tastes, looks or smells unusual, do not use it for drinking, preparing food, and do not give it to animals. Use bottled water. Boiling water will not make it safe to drink.

• Mosquitoes can also breed rapidly in stagnant waters. So drain any water from containers such as plant pots, tyres, buckets, and roof gutters to control mosquitos around your home.

Prolonged power outages
Food safety
• Food safety is important during power outages. Once cold or frozen food is no longer cold to touch, it can be kept and eaten for up to four hours and then it must be thrown away.

• Eat hot food within four hours of it being hot or throw it away. If you don’t know how long your food has been unfrozen or not cold to the touch, throw it away.

• If available, put bagged ice under food packages and trays stored in freezers and fridges if power failure lasts more than 1 hour.

• Only open fridge and freezer doors when absolutely necessary, this will keep the food and air temperature colder for longer.

Managing your medications
• Some medicines need to refrigerated between +2°C and +8°C or their effectiveness can deteriorate. These can include vaccines, insulin, thyroxine tablets, immune therapies, some eye drops, some hormone products and some antibiotic mixtures for children.

• If the power has been off for a prolonged period and you are concerned about the quality of your medicines, you should discard them unless it is essential to your immediate health (e.g. insulin).

• Some medicines, such as insulin, which are normally refrigerated can be kept at room temperature (below 25°C) for a specified number of days while you are using them. See the Consumer Medicines Information for the product.

• If you are concerned about a particular medicine, contact your pharmacist or doctor or contact Health Direct on 1800 022 222 for guidance.

Ladder safety
If you need to check your property for storm damage and make repairs, remember your own safety.
Ladder falls can lead to serious injury or death. When using a ladder, don’t take short cuts - make safety matter. 

Personal Wellbeing
• It is normal to experience a range of physical, mental, emotional and behavioural reactions following an emergency or distressing event.

• Elderly or isolated people, and those who have a pre-existing mental illness, history of trauma or recent bereavement may need extra support during an emergency.

• If you are feeling overwhelmed and finding it difficult to cope, reach out for help from friends and family or contact the services listed below.

• If you know someone who is struggling from their experience or impacts due to the severe weather, it’s a good idea to check in on them to see if they are ok. People find it helpful to know that family and friends are thinking of them and talking and providing support can be beneficial.

• The way you react to an emergency, including your mental and emotional response, and the time it takes to recover, depends on many things. This includes the amount of support available, other stressors being experienced, or previous traumatic experiences. Recovery will be complex and unique to your own circumstance.

• If at any time you are worried about your mental health or the mental health of a loved one, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

• Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs are available to help anyone who is feeling overwhelmed or having a difficult time and a telehealth appointment can be booked by calling 1300 375 330 (9 am to 10 pm weekdays and 9 am to 5 pm weekends). You do not need a referral from a GP or health professional to access support through a Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub.

• More information for you and your family affects of a traumatic event is available online (in English and in translated languages)

COVID and emergencies:
• You can leave your home during an emergency or if your safety is at risk.

• You can leave your home to travel to a safer location, such as a hotel or with friends or family, ahead of an emergency.

• If a fire, flood, storm, power outage or other emergency impacts your health or safety, or the health or safety of someone you live with, you can travel to other accommodation or a friend or family member’s house.

• If you need power for life support or a ventilator, you can travel to accommodation or a friend or family member’s house who has power.

• If you have been impacted by an emergency and need relief support, contact your local council and they will help you.

For more information from the Department of Health click here