DANVILLE - As thousands of area residents recover from the devastation of recent flooding, major health concerns should not be neglected. The most common health problem facing flood victims is mold, which doctors say can rear its head in the form of several different symptoms.
"When cleaning up after a flood, the most important message is to clean up and dry the rooms quickly to reduce the growth of mold," said David Fisk, M.D., pulmonary medicine department, Geisinger Medical Center. "Especially for those with allergies and asthma, it is important to get water-logged materials out of the house so mold growth is retarded."
Mold can start growing within the first 24 hours after a flood and can lurk throughout a home. It is important to check surfaces such as wood, upholstered furniture, glass, plastic or metal objects and carpeting. In the cases of wood, upholstered furniture and carpeting, most items will need to be discarded. Glass, plastic, metal and other nonporous materials can be cleaned with non-ammonia soap or bleach in a well-ventilated area.
"Mold affects the body principally through our nasal passages, mucus membranes and lungs," said Dr. Fisk. "Mold can trigger asthmatic episodes and cause allergic reactions such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing or skin irritation. In severe cases, allergic reactions to mold can cause fever, shortness of breath and lung inflammation."
Dr. Fisk adds that cleaning and drying the house should be done more quickly with exhaust fans and open windows. Dehumidifiers and air conditioners in a closed basement or house add even more moisture reduction to stop the growth of mold. Wet wallboard and the wet insulation behind it also needs to be removed and may require professional help. It is better to prevent the growth of mold on wet materials than to do mold remediation later.
"Working in a confined environment where mold is present can make people ill and mold exposure should not be taken lightly," said Dr. Fisk. "If any symptoms occur that might be related to mold exposure, patients should contact their physician who can determine the severity of the reaction and the most suitable course of treatment."