Diseases loom after floods


PETALING JAYA: With many states yet to recover from the recent floods, the alarm bells have already been rung for not only the possibility of more floods, but the dangers of diseases spreading in their aftermath.

Heavy rain is expected over the next few days in the flood-hit states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Perak.

This could lead to more floods, and public health experts are concerned about diseases that will spread through floodwaters and bad food, all amid the nation’s ongoing struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has already voiced his concern of rising Covid-19 cases among flood victims. Cases increased twofold from 181 on Tuesday to 361 yesterday.

Family medicine specialist Dr Mastura Mohd Sopian from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) said victims in flooded areas must ensure that they use clean water.

“Drink bottled or boiled water.

“Flood victims must also ensure (they maintain) their personal hygiene at all times.

“Wash your hands after handling items exposed to floodwaters that can contain sewage.

“If victims develop any symptoms, they should seek medical advice immediately,” she urged.

Dr Mastura added that public health measures must remain in place.

Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun’s Infectious Diseases physician Dr Steven Lim Chee Loon agreed that it was crucial to ensure the continuous provision of safe and clean water for flood victims.

He said waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, leptospirosis, cholera, Hepatitis A and food poisoning commonly occur following floods due to ingestion of contaminated water and food.

“Wash your hands frequently with clean water, drink bottled or boiled water, eat only freshly cooked food or packaged dry food, and avoid eating raw vegetables.

“Any open wound needs to be cleaned and protected with plaster or dressing to prevent exposure to floodwaters,” he stressed.

Dr Lim warned that the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak is high among flood victims.

He urged them to seek medical attention immediately if they experience vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever or headache.

Gleneagles Hospital Penang dietician Jazeera Julaili said it was important that food consumed by flood victims is safe from bacterial transmission.

“Flood victims must not share food utensil or plates. They should not reheat food that was given or eat a meal exposed for four hours.

“Do not eat food that is not wrapped in a waterproof container.

“If possible, eat at a clean area with clean hands. Use disposable utensils. Volunteers should be vaccinated against typhoid too,” she added.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Koh Kar Chai stressed that those involved in flood relief efforts need to observe proper hygiene and Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP).

“In situations where it will be difficult to observe physical distancing, face masks must be worn and hands sanitised frequently.

“Exposure to floodwaters can cause skin irritation, gastrointestinal issues, cholera, tetanus and leptospirosis, which can be fatal,” he said in a recent statement.

Dr Koh added that MMA has sent food and medical supplies to flood relief centres in Section 21 and 22 in Taman Sri Muda, Bandar Baru Klang, Taman Melawis, Pulau Indah, Teluk Gong, Klang Utama and Bukit Raja in Klang, as well as an Orang Asli settlement and estate community in Pulau Carey.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah reminded everyone affected by the floods to stay mindful of hygienic practices even while cleaning up.

He advised they use rubber boots when cleaning mud and rubbish left behind after the floods recede.

Dr Noor Hisham also said flood victims will be screened for Covid-19 before entering temporary shelters (PPS) to prevent further transmission of the virus.

“Seek medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms like fever, abdominal pain, vomiting or coughing,” he said.

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