Staying safe and healthy during and after a flood

During and after a flood, there are increased risks to health and safety. The main health risks while in flood-impacted areas include:

  • injuries, including those caused by falls, skin cuts and lacerations, and snake and spider bites
  • nose, throat and ear infections  
  • skin and wound infections
  • dermatitis, conjunctivitis and ear, nose and throat infections
  • diarrhoeal diseases
  • mosquito-borne infections
  • gastrointestinal (gastro) infections
  • drowning.

Avoid contact with floodwater

Don’t walk, wade or swim through floodwater.

  • If you come into contact with contaminated floodwater and mud, wash affected areas of the body thoroughly with clean water and soap. Clean and disinfect all wounds.
  • If you have exposed wounds, keep them covered especially if you have diabetes or other chronic diseases. Wounds heal most quickly if the affected area is rested and elevated.
  • You may need to consider a tetanus vaccination. If you have any doubts about whether you are fully vaccinated, contact your doctor.

Cleaning up after a flood

Following the initial damage to property and infrastructure, water left behind from flooding can cause sickness and serious injury. Minimise risks with safe behaviour and good hygiene practices.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as sturdy footwear (e.g. rubber boots), loose long-sleeved shirts and trousers, thick waterproof gloves, hat and eye protection (e.g. sunglasses).
  • Muddy surfaces can be extremely slippery and can result in falls that may cause injuries. Good shoes can help, but also consider using a walking pole or something like a piece of smooth timber, a broom handle or a tree branch.
  • Wash your hands with clean water and soap regularly.
  • Dry out flood-affected houses or buildings as quickly as possible by opening all the doors and windows. If possible, use fans to speed up the process.
  • Clean walls and floors with detergent and water. Then disinfect walls, floors and ceilings using a solution consisting of 125mL of household bleach to 5L of clean water. Do not use hot water.
  • Clean food contact surfaces, like benches and fridges, with detergent and water. Then disinfect them using a solution consisting of 50mL of bleach to 10L of clean water.
  • Clothes should be washed with hot water and detergent, then thoroughly dried.
  • Discard items that had contact with floodwater and cannot be washed. Remove and discard absorbent household materials such as mattresses and upholstered furniture. These items are difficult to disinfect and dry and can become mouldy.
  • Take precautions if you are handling asbestos cement debris and other hazardous waste such as domestic and agricultural chemicals. Ask local council or SES workers about waste collection and disposal in your local area.

Dilution rates for bleach are to be used a guide only. Always follow the warnings, directions for use and safety precaution advice on the product label.

Your local council will advise on kerbside collection for flood-damaged goods in affected areas once floodwaters recede.

Protect against disease as floodwaters recede

Fly numbers can increase after flooding because of excess amounts of spoiled food and other waste. Flies can contaminate food, utensils and food preparation areas with bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause disease.

  • Thoroughly clean food preparation areas before use, and keep food covered.
  • Seal and dispose of all rubbish, animal droppings, and organic waste such as food scraps in plastic bags as soon as possible.
  • Ensure rubbish bins have undamaged, tight-fitting lids.
  • Empty bins regularly and keep them clean.

Pools of water left behind after flooding create perfect breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes can spread serious diseases such as Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus, Murray Valley Encephalitis virus and Japanese encephalitis virus. Symptoms caused by these infections may vary in severity from person to person and can include joint pain, rash, fever, fatigue or muscle pain to more severe neurological symptoms, brain infection, and death. Anyone suffering from symptoms should contact their doctor for advice.

Personal and household protection is critical in protecting against these diseases.

  • Wear long, light coloured, loose fitting clothing (ideally long pants and sleeves).
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin or PMD on all areas of exposed skin.
  • Prevent mosquitoes from breeding by cleaning up any pooled water around the home.
  • Ensure that screens are fitted to windows and doors.

For more information, visit Fight the Bite.

Watch out for snakes, spiders and other pests

During a flood, snakes, spiders and other pests may seek shelter inside homes, sheds and other structures as floodwaters rise, increasing the risk of snake bites.

  • Stay away from snakes. Do not try to handle snakes and keep children and pets clear.
  • Stay away from floodwater. Snakes may be swimming in the water trying to get to higher ground.
  • Discourage rats and mice from your property as they can attract snakes. Remove debris from around your home and store food away.
  • When cleaning up, wear protective clothing including sturdy work boots, gloves and long pants. Watch where you put your hands and feet.
  • If you do come across a snake, contact a licensed snake removal service.

Be careful of contaminated water

  • Don’t drink floodwater or tank water that may have been contaminated by floodwater.
  • You should get private water supplies tested before use if you think they have been affected by floodwater.
  • In most cases, potable (drinkable) mains water will remain safe. If this is not the case you will be formally notified. If in doubt, bring water to a rolling boil (the automatic cut-off point on a kettle) and cool before drinking.
  • Contact your council for more information about your water supply and listen out for announcements from water suppliers about tap water safety.

If you believe your rainwater tank has been contaminated, please contact SA Health’s Water Quality Branch on (08) 8226 7100.

Throw out any unsafe food

  • Throw out any food that has been in contact with floodwater.
  • If the power is off for more than 24 hours and the freezer has not been stocked with ice, food will start to spoil and should be eaten immediately. What cannot be eaten should be thrown out.
  • If perishable foods (e.g. deli meats, raw and cooked meats, cooked rice, pasta and potato, dairy products) have been kept at warm temperatures for more than 4 hours they may be unsafe and should be discarded.
  • Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been kept warm for too long, they may contain bacteria which may make you ill. If in doubt, throw it out!
  • Wash and sanitise contaminated dishes, pots, pans, cutlery and kitchen equipment that have been in contact with floodwater.

For more information, visit the Food safety page and read the Food safety in an emergency – in the home fact sheet.

Eliminate mould and dampness

After a flood, it is important to eliminate and reduce exposure to mould.

  • Mould can potentially cause nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing or wheezing, and respiratory infections. It can also worsen asthma and allergic conditions.
  • Contact with mould can irritate eyes and skin.
  • If you remove mould yourself, make sure there is good ventilation. You should also wear protective clothing, including a P2 face mask, rubber gloves and eye protection.
  • Some mould is not visible as it might be in a roof space, behind a wall or under floor coverings.
  • If you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, seek medical advice.

On-site wastewater systems

  • If your on-site wastewater system has been under floodwater, don’t use fixtures that are connected to it until all components have been inspected and repaired.
  • Have your system professionally inspected and serviced once the ground is no longer soaked.
  • Your septic tank may need to pumped out by a licenced contractor, and cleaned to remove excess silt.
  • DON’T pump out the tank yourself. This is illegal and can cause it to pop out of the ground if the ground is still saturated, or if the tank was recently installed and the soil around it hasn’t yet compacted. Damage to components, such as the inlet and outlet, can also occur.
  • A professional agent or plumber can best advise when your wastewater system is ready for use after the floodwater recedes.
  • Take care around irrigated water from an aerated treatment system, as treatment may be compromised until the system is re-established.

For information on cleaning up after a wastewater overflow please see our Domestic wastewater overflows page.

Important contacts

  • Call Health direct Australia on  1800 022 222 to speak to a health professional.
  • In a medical emergency, call Triple Zero (000) for emergency assistance.
  • For general public health information, contact SA Health on (08) 8226 7100.
  • For information specific to your local area, contact your local council.