Staying healthy after a flood
How to avoid injury, sickness or infection after a flood or storm.
Be careful around contaminated water
Sewage and other hazards can contaminate drinking water. If you’re concerned about the quality of your drinking water, contact your water supplier, local council or local public health unit on 1300 066 055.
Floodwater can make you sick
Sewage and other hazards can contaminate floodwater, debris and drinking water.
Avoid swimming in rivers, lagoons and estuaries for at least 3 days after heavy rain.
If you are concerned about the quality of your drinking water, contact your water supplier, local council or local public health unit on 1300 066 055.
If a 'boil water' alert has been issued in your area, water for eating and drinking should be brought to a rolling boil and then allowed to cool. This includes water for:
- brushing teeth
- washing raw food
- making ice
- your pets to drink.
If possible, use bottled or disinfected water.
After a ‘boil alert’ is lifted, make sure you follow your water supplier's advice on how to flush your water pipes.
If you think your septic tank vessel or pipe junctions have been damaged, get them inspected.
If a water bore you use for domestic purposes has been affected by floodwater:
- use an alternative source (e.g., bottled or rainwater), or
- bring the water to a rolling boil before use.
Practise good hygiene in flooded areas
Make sure you practice good hygiene during and after a flood.
Always wear a nose and mouth guard or dust mask when collecting and removing rotting material including vegetation or spoiled food.
Use personal protective equipment, including gloves, covered shoes or boots and full-length clothing to cover your arms and legs.
Wash your hands with soap and water (bottled, boiled or disinfected) after:
- handling items that are potentially contaminated with floodwater or sewage
- going to the toilet
- before handling or eating food.
Avoid coughing or sneezing on others. Use only clean eating utensils, toothbrushes, towels or handkerchiefs and avoid sharing these items.
If using disinfectants or other cleaners, follow safety advice on labels and do not touch your face (especially your eyes).
All wounds other than clean, minor cuts are at risk of tetanus. Seek medical advice for dirty wounds or wounds where the skin has been penetrated. First aid treatment should always include cleaning the wound and using an antiseptic.
After heavy rain or flooding you may find mould in your home or workplace. Read more about mould and your health on the NSW Health mould fact sheet.
Be careful of what you eat
Throw out any food that has been in direct contact with floodwater or has an unusual smell, colour or texture. Eating unsafe food can cause serious illness. Food is considered spoiled if it has been in:
direct contact with floodwater
- a fridge that has been left above 5°C for more than 4 hours
- containers with screw caps, snap-lids, soft drink bottles, twist caps, flip-top lids or home-canned foods.
If a freezer door is kept shut, frozen food will not spoil for 24 hours. Never refreeze food that has defrosted.
For more information about cleaning up after a flood, visit Clean-up assistance and advice.
Mosquitoes can cause serious illness
Mosquito numbers can rapidly increase in the water left behind by flooding. It is important to take protective measures to avoid bites from mosquitoes and other pests. Follow these steps to protect yourself.
More information on mosquito-borne diseases is available on the NSW Health page.
Japanese encephalitis is a rare but serious illness caused by the Japanese encephalitis virus. It is spread to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. If you live or work in a flood-affected area, you are at higher risk of catching the Japanese encephalitis virus.
Japanese encephalitis vaccine
The Japanese encephalitis vaccine is safe and effective for people aged 2 months and older.
Vaccination is recommended for people who are at highest risk of getting the Japanese encephalitis virus.
Learn more about who can get a free vaccine.
Vaccination is also recommend for some people travelling to high-risk countries.
If you think you might be able to get the vaccine, talk to your local doctor. If you need language support, call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 131450 and ask for Health Direct 1800 022 222.
Wear appropriate clothing
Minimising the amount of exposed skin by wearing loose, light-coloured clothing with long sleeves and pants.
Apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin
Use a mosquito repellent on all exposed skin areas. The most effective mosquito repellents contain Diethyl Toluamide (DEET) or Picaridin.
Use appropriate insecticides
Aerosol insecticide sprays, mosquito coils (used outdoors) and insecticide vapour dispensing units (used indoors) can help to clear rooms or areas of mosquitoes or repel mosquitoes from an area.
Be aware of the peak risk times for mosquito bites
Take extra care during peak mosquito biting hours to reduce the risk of infection. In NSW, most mosquitoes become active at dawn and dusk, and into the evening.
Reduce mosquito risk around your home
Stop adult mosquitoes entering the home by using flyscreens on windows and doors, and screening chimneys, vents and other entrances. Also consider using a surface insecticide spray on areas where mosquitoes like to rest.
Mosquitoes need water to breed and some mosquitoes can breed in very small amounts of water, such as in the water that collects in a puddle. Try to dry areas of resting water, or remove them completely, if you can.
To ask a question, call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.