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Preventing Poisonings After a Hurricane

After a hurricane or other natural disaster, poison control centers traditionally experience an increase in poisoning calls. Below are some of the most common poisonings after a hurricane and tips to help keep your family safe.

Remember, Florida’s Poison Control Centers are available 24 hours a day, even during a storm, at 1-800-222-1222.

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Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

Carbon MonoxideCarbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is preventable, but it is the most common cause of hospitalization and death from a poisoning following a hurricane. These incidents typically occur in the first few hours to days after the storm.

Carbon monoxide is a non-irritating, odorless, colorless gas present in the exhaust/smoke from:

  • Portable, gasoline-powered generators
  • Vehicles
  • Grills (charcoal, wood, or gas)
  • Lawn equipment (gas-powered leaf blowers)
  • Gasoline powered tools (compressors and saws)

Carbon monoxide is called a “silent killer” because it has no odor and people may dismiss the symptoms as the flu or other illnesses.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include:

  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or bizarre behavior
  • Loss of consciousness

When people use generators improperly – indoors, too close to homes, in garages, or outside bedroom windows – carbon monoxide can seep in and sicken or kill. Never use generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open.

Here are a few safety tips for using portable generators safely:

  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • NEVER use a generator inside a home, garage, or carport or near open windows.
  • Place generator outside, in a dry area, at least 20 feet away from windows, doors, and A/C intake vents.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near sleeping areas on every floor of your home. Be sure to test and replace the batteries regularly.
  • Replace the detector every 10 years.
  • Do not fill a generator with gas while it is running.
  • Do not siphon gasoline using your mouth to fill a generator.
  • If you experience sleepiness, dizziness, headaches, confusion, weakness, or your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, seek fresh air IMMEDIATELY and call 1-800-222-1222.

Additionally, never use an outdoor grill (gas, charcoal, or wood) inside the house or garage, as carbon monoxide may be generated.

Food & Water Safety

Food & Water SafetyWhen the power goes out during or after a storm, take important steps to avoid foodborne illnesses.

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain cold temperatures as long as possible.
  • In a power outage, food will generally stay safe:
    • In a cold refrigerator – 4 hours
    • In a half-full freezer – 24 hours
    • In a full freezer – 48 hours

When in doubt, throw it out!

Regarding water safety, don’t store water in jugs previously containing or made for chemicals, or containers previously used for non-edible products. The chemicals can leach into the water. It is best to use food-grade containers only, such as empty water or milk jugs. Never drink bottled water that was submerged in floodwater.

Call 1-800-222-1222 if you experience any symptoms of food poisoning to talk to a poison specialist 24/7.

Medication Mistakes

Medication errorsMedication errors are also a concern following a hurricane. Power outages may mean difficulty reading prescription labels and lack of refrigeration for certain medicines. Floodwaters can destroy medication as well.

Here are a few tips of what to do before and after a storm to avoid medication mistakes.

Before a storm:

  • Have a plan to keep refrigerated medications cool in case of a power outage.
  • Make sure you have enough of your medications to last several days after a storm.
  • Keep a list of all medications, supplements, vitamins, and health insurance information in water-resistant bags/containers.

During a power outage:

  • Use a flashlight to make sure you’re taking the correct medication (dose, timing, method).
  • Secure medications in child-resistant packaging to prevent access by children or pets, even if in a “go-bag” or travel kit.
  • Call 1-800-222-1222 if you make a medication mistake, any time 24/7, for immediate help. We are always available, before, during and after a storm.

Chemicals & Cleaning Products

Chemicals & Cleaning ProductsWhen you use chemicals or cleaning products following a storm, ensure that you are following the manufacturer’s instructions and only use them in a well-ventilated area.

Here are a few tips regarding using chemicals and/or cleaning products:

  • Use gloves when cleaning.
  • Follow all dilution instructions.
  • Do not mix chemicals. It could create a toxic gas.
  • Open windows and doors to provide good air flow when cleaning.
  • Avoid using chemicals near food products.
  • If you become sick while cleaning, go to fresh air and call 1-800-222-1222.

Bites & Stings

Snakebite Following a hurricane, be extra cautious while cleaning up or moving debris. Animals can be displaced during a storm and may seek refuge in debris piles. You may also find snakes, bugs, or spiders in homes, yards, and pools after a storm.  Stormwaters may carry or harbor venomous snakes flushed from their normal habitat.

When cleaning up debris, wear protective clothing, including:

  • Gloves
  • Long pants
  • Closed-toed shoes
  • Goggles

For any bite or sting of any kind, call us at 1-800-222-1222 for help.