Hurricane Harvey Relief

The City of Houston Health Department joins the efforts to provide recovery, relief, and wraparound services to thousands after the Hurricane Harvey gulf-coast disaster.

Recovery Efforts at the GRB

Houston Health Department Factsheets

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas. Several household sources, such as gasoline-powered tools and generators, produce carbon monoxide. Anything that burns can produce carbon monoxide. The fumes are extremely hazardous and can cause sudden illness or death.

Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?
Carbon monoxide weakens the blood's ability to carry oxygen to organs and body tissues. The gas cannot be seen or smelled, so people often don't know they are breathing it. Poisoning can occur in minutes.

Why is carbon monoxide poisoning a potential problem during a disaster situation?

During disasters, people who lose electricity often turn to fuel-powered devices to cool or heat their homes or cook their food. Gas-powered portable generators may be used during emergencies but need to be used safely in an outdoor setting. Carbon monoxide fumes from generators can build up in enclosed areas and poison people.

What is the safest way to operate a generator during an emergency?

The most important thing to remember is location. Never use a portable generator inside a home, in a garage or outside near an open window. Generators should be placed at least 10 feet from the home and in a well-ventilated area.

Who is at risk?

Nearly everyone is at risk, but carbon monoxide is especially dangerous to infants, women who are pregnant and their unborn children, the elderly and people with heart or breathing problems. It also can affect pets.

What are the ways people get carbon monoxide poisoning?

In disaster situations, carbon monoxide poisonings usually occur from improperly operated generators. Carbon monoxide poisoning also can occur when gas stoves, lanterns, charcoal grills, gas ranges, gas dryers and hot water heaters, automobiles and heating systems are not used correctly.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, drowsiness, severe headache, weakness, nausea and confusion. If you experience any of these, get out of the house and seek medical attention immediately.

Poison Control Center (Houston): (713) 463-5668

Flood waters and standing waters may not be safe. The water can have organisms that can make people sick. The water can also hide objects that could cause injuries. People should avoid contact with floodwater because there may be raw sewage and other chemicals in the water. Recommendations if you have been in floodwaters for a long period of time:

  • When cleaning up after a flood, wash hands with soap and water before eating and after handling floodwater-contaminated items.
  • Do not drink floodwater or eat food that was been in contact with floodwaters.
  • Wash clothes that have been in floodwaters immediately.
  • If floodwater gets in your eyes, flush your eyes with clean, cool water.
  • Do not let children play in floodwater or with toys that have been in floodwater. Clean toys with a solution of one cup bleach to five gallons of water.
  • Drain standing water in and around your home to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
  • Protect yourself from mosquitoes by wearing insect repellent containing DEET.
  • Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing with soap and water.
  • People with puncture wounds or cuts exposed to floodwater could be at risk of contracting Tetanus. It is recommended you get a Tetanus vaccination if you have never been vaccinated against Tetanus; do not remember the last time you were vaccinated; if it has been more than 5 years since your last vaccination.
Contact a Physician immediately and tell them you have been in floodwaters if:
  • You develop gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, or fever
  • irritation, pain, sensitivity to light, sudden or blurred vision, or discharge
  • Any puncture wounds develop redness, swelling, or drainage

If I live in an area affected by floodin¬g, should I be concerned about diarrheal illnesses?

If you drink water from a well that has been dirtied with flood waters, or from any other pollutants or germs, you could develop a gastrointestinal disorder –nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, etc. You can also become ill from germs on your hands or in contaminated food.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from this?

Make sure your drinking water is safe. Observe "boil water" and other notices about your water supply. Private wells in flooded areas should be tested by the health department. Check with your public water system to find out the results of tests on the water.


Practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after coming into contact with flood water, after using the bathroom, and before eating. Make sure that your other family members do too. If you do not have clean water, use an antibacterial hand gel.

Should I see a doctor if I get diarrhea?

Most cases of mild diarrhea can be managed at home. Mare sure drink plenty of liquids (that are safe from contamination) so that you don't become dehydrated. However, if you or any of your family members have moderate to severe diarrhea (more than 4 or 5 watery stools per day), any bloody diarrhea, fever over 100 degrees, or a diarrheal illness that lasts longer than 3 days, see a doctor. This is especially important for small children and the elderly.

Is it important to find out what caused my illness?

If your illness is serious enough to see a doctor, it is important to try to find what caused it. Finding the source of the problem can help determine how to best treat your illness and how to protect others from becoming ill. If there is an outbreak of diarrheal disease in a community, it is especially important to identify the specific germ and where it came from in order to stop the spread of illness throughout the community.

Heat can create serious health problems. Usually the elderly, the very young, the sick and those without access to air conditioning are most severely affected by heat. Symptoms of heat illness include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, weak but rapid pulse, and headaches. People with these symptoms should find shade, drink water slowly and make sure there is good ventilation.

If fluids are not replaced soon enough, heat stroke can follow causing extremely high body temperature, red and dry skin, rapid pulse, confusion, brain damage, loss of consciousness and death. To help a person showing severe symptoms, get the victim into shade, call for emergency medical services and start cooling the person immediately with cool water or by fanning.

Staying in an air-conditioned area, either at home or in a public place such as a mall, library or recreation center, is the most effective way to combat heat. If air conditioning is not available, pull the shades over the windows and use cross-ventilation and fans to cool rooms. A cool shower or bath also is an effective way to cool off. Limit the use of stoves and ovens to keep home temperatures lower.

Children can quickly become dehydrated. They need to drink fluids frequently, especially water, and wear light- colored, loose-fitting clothes. Avoid drinks that are heavily sweetened or contain caffeine. Check on children often, particularly if they are playing outside in high temperatures.

Other heat precautions include:
  • Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle during hot weather, even for a short time.
  • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar. Start drinking fluids before going out into the heat.
  • Plan strenuous outdoor activity for early morning or evening when the temperature is lower.
  • Wear sun block, hats and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Stay indoors in air conditioning as much as possible.
  • Eat more frequently, but be sure meals are well balanced and light.
  • Don't dress infants in heavy clothing or wrap them in blankets.
  • Check frequently on the elderly and those who are ill or may need help.
  • Check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat when taking prescription drugs, especially diuretics or antihistamines.
  • At first signs of heat illness move to a cooler place, rest a few minutes, then slowly drink a cool beverage. Seek medical attention immediately if conditions do not improve.

The best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. Staying cool, drinking plenty of fluids, wearing cool clothing and monitoring outdoor activities are keys to staying healthy in hot weather.

Where are mold spores found?

Mold spores are everywhere. Mold thrives in continuously wet conditions and can start to grow within 24 hours after a flood.

What problems can mold spores cause? Mold spores can cause allergy symptoms, headaches, bronchitis, asthma attacks, lung irritation and skin rashes. People with asthma or other pulmonary illnesses, compromised immune systems, infants and the elderly are more likely to develop mold-related illnesses.

What can people do to control mold in and around the home, especially after a flood?

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) offers the following suggestions to control mold:

  • Flooded homes should be thoroughly dried out, which may take several days or weeks.
  • When cleaning visible mold, add 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon water and use this to clean the moldy area.
  • Don't mix bleach and ammonia. This can cause an explosion.
  • Wet carpet and padding should be removed and discarded.
  • Porous materials – those that absorb water – such as sheetrock (should be removed to at least 12 inches above the water line), some paneling, any insulation, mattresses, pillows, wallpaper and upholstered furniture should be discarded.
  • Clean wall studs with bleach solution where wallboard has been removed and allow them to dry completely.
  • Floors, concrete or brick walls, countertops, plastic, glass and other non-porous materials should be washed with soap and water and then with a solution of one to two cups of bleach to a gallon of water and allowed to completely dry.
  • Wear rubber gloves and eye protection when using bleach and make sure area is well ventilated. Consider using an N-95 rated dust mask (available at local hardware stores) if heavy concentrations of mold are already growing.
  • Materials that cannot be effectively cleaned and dried should be placed in sealed plastic bags and discarded to prevent the spread of mold and people with asthma or other respiratory conditions should not do mold cleanup.

How do I know that there may be mold?

  • Musty odor
  • Dark spots on or around vents
  • Water stains anywhere
  • Peeling or curling of vinyl floors or wallpaper

What do people need to know about professional assistance with mold problems?

If large areas of mold growth are present, professional assistance with clean up may be needed. People and companies conducting inspections for mold or offering mold remediation services in Texas are required to be licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Listings of currently licensed professionals and information about the regulation of mold assessment and remediation in Texas can be found online at:

Where can people get more information?
More information about mold and cleaning up after floods can be found online at:

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a serious, sometimes fatal, illness of the nervous system. It is characterized by stiffening of the muscles, particularly in the face, neck and back, and locking of the jaw. For this reason, it is also called "lockjaw."

Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani (C. tetani), which is found in soil, dust and manure.

Can tetanus be prevented?

Safe and effective vaccines exist to prevent tetanus. A series of five injections containing tetanus toxoid is usually given to children starting at 2 months of age in the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) vaccine.

A booster dose is required every 10 years after completion of the DTaP series, either with Td (tetanus/diphtheria) or Tdap (tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis).

How is it transmitted?

Tetanus usually enters the body through a wound. Toxins from C. tetani bacteria attach to nerves in the wounded area and travel to the central nervous system where they interfere with nerves related to muscular movement.

Tetanus infection is often associated with deep puncture wounds and cuts, such as those caused by nails or knives. But burns, scratches and even small pinpricks can serve as entryways for infection. It is not spread from person to person.

What are the symptoms?

Typical onset of tetanus begins with muscular spasms of the face and locking of the jaw. Throat and neck muscles may become rigid, causing swallowing and breathing difficulties with a danger of suffocation. Symptoms may progress to include stiffness in the shoulders, back and arms. Eventually the abdomen and legs may become stiff.

After exposure, it usually takes about seven days to become ill, but symptoms may begin in as early as three days or as late as three weeks.

Is there a treatment?

Treatment for tetanus infection requires hospitalization, usually under intensive care. Large doses of antibiotics are given as well as antitoxins (medicines that neutralize toxins). Sedatives may be required to control spasms, and maintenance of an airway or mechanical ventilation may be necessary for breathing.

Most patients will recover completely after a couple of months, but despite treatment, there is a risk of death. In rare cases, there may be lasting effects such as brain damage from oxygen deficiencies.

How common is tetanus infection?

Because of widespread immunization, tetanus infection is rare in the United States. However, it is still common in other parts of the world. If you have not been vaccinated or have not received a booster shot within 10 years, you are at risk.

What should I do if I step on a nail or receive a wound?

If any signs of infection (redness or warmth of the wound, swelling, tenderness or fever) or tetanus develop, consult your health care provider immediately.

For severe injuries, see a health care provider immediately for evaluation and treatment (stitches, antibiotics and Td or Tdap booster shot).

If any signs of infection (redness or warmth of the wound, swelling, tenderness or fever) or tetanus develop, consult your health care provider immediately.