Sunday, May 28, 2023

Post-storm health concerns: Compromised water quality, gastrointestinal illnesses spike

Area hospitals have seen many patients for storm-related reasons following Hurricane Florence's arrival.

The turbidity of Carolina Beach’s ocean waters changed following the arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Hurricane Florence left its mark across Southeastern N.C. with cracked trees and downed power lines, but the storm also wreaked havoc on sewage systems and wastewater treatment facilities as well. With millions of gallons of both treated and untreated sewage into local waterways illnesses due to wading in flood waters or swimming in the ocean are a very real risk.

In Brunswick County, Dosher Memorial Hospital has seen an uptick in cases of gastrointestinal illnesses. On Friday, the county announced that evacuees at one of its shelters at West Brunswick High School had reported symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness.

RELATED: Symptoms of Norovirus reported at West Brunswick Evacuation shelter

Gastrointestinal illnesses, which are often highly contagious but non-life threatening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can stick around for two weeks after symptoms dissipate.

“Gastrointestinal problems are serious business,” James Goss, spokesperson for Dosher Memorial Hospital. “When a health department or mayor of a town says boil the water, listen to what they are saying.”

Located in Southport where thousands of people were without water for days after the storm, Dosher had water service restored Saturday.

Public waters

As evacuees return, many people aren’t sure whether or not it’s safe to swim in public waters. On Monday, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries announced its continued water quality advisory for all coastal counties, excluding Dare and Currituck Counties.

The state has been unable to test water quality at other coastal sites due to impacts from Hurricane Florence, a release states, and asks the public to avoid public waters.

Floodwaters that contain bacteria, pollutants including waste from septic systems, sewer line breaks, pet waste, wildlife, petroleum products, and other chemicals according to the N. C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). If people are exposed to coastal or riparian waters after the storm, the DEQ advises them to limit wound exposure and thoroughly wash their hands.

Julian March, a New Hanover County Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) spokesperson, could not confirm whether any patients had been treated for bacterial infections related to public water exposure.

“NHRMC advises people to do everything possible to avoid wading through flood waters,” March wrote in an email. “In addition to post-storm drainage, bacteria, and other hazards within the water, it is often impossible to see sharp objects or other dangerous items covered by murky waters.”

Since the storm hit, March said the hospital’s emergency department has seen an increase in patients being treated for the following reasons:

  • Bites and stings from bugs/animals/wasps/hornets
  • Lacerations/crush injuries/puncture wounds
  • Heat-related visits
  • Other musculoskeletal injuries
  • Home oxygen issues
  • Stress and anxiety related issues

For more information on how to stay safe in post-storm conditions, check out NHRMC’s safety tips.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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