After the Event
With the amount of debris left by a tropical storm, hurricane or other emergency, those involved in clean-up could be at risk of injury.
Here is information on who may or may not need to receive a tetanus shot.
- If you do not have a cut or wound, you do not need to get tetanus shot – regardless of your exposure to floodwater.
- If you get a cut or puncture wound and haven’t had a tetanus shot, then you will need to get one.
- If you get a wound or deep cut that worries you, seek medical attention to determine if you need to get a tetanus shot or tetanus booster.
- Regardless of your exposure to flood water, proper wound care is essential for all cuts and lacerations.
What is tetanus?
Tetanus, sometimes called lockjaw, is a disease that affects the nervous system. You catch it through a cut or wound that becomes infected with tetanus bacteria. The bacteria can get in through even a tiny pinprick or scratch, but deep puncture wounds or cuts – such as those made by nails, knives or barbed-wire – are especially at risk of infection with tetanus. Tetanus bacteria are present everywhere and are found in soil, dust and manure. Tetanus infection causes severe muscle spasms, leading to "locking" of the jaw so the patient cannot open his/her mouth or swallow, and may even lead to death by suffocation. Tetanus is not contagious.
Symptoms usually begin eight days after infection, but may range in onset from three days to three weeks. Common first signs of tetanus are headache and stiffness in the jaw (lockjaw) followed by neck stiffness, difficulty in swallowing, stiffening of stomach muscles, spasms, sweating and fever.
During this time of recovery from a storm or other emergency, health officials urge the community, especially those individuals performing heavy physical activity, to be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack.
While some heart attacks are sudden and intense (as you may have seen on TV), many heart attacks start slowly, with only mild pain or discomfort. If you, or someone you are with, begin to have chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the signs of a heart attack listed below, call 911 right away.
Warning signs of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath may occur before, with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs: Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.
What to Do?
If you or someone you’re with shows one or more of these signs, don’t ignore them. Call 911 to get medical help right away. Don’t wait longer than a few minutes before calling for help.
Do not try to drive the victim to the hospital yourself – unless you have been told that help will be delayed. Calling 911 is the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive – up to an hour sooner than if someone goes to the hospital by car. They are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. You may get assistance faster in the hospital if you come by ambulance.
After a storm or other emergency, watch for snakes that could take refuge on your property or even in your home. Know what to do if you find a snake.
- Be aware of snakes that may be in the water trying to get to higher ground and those that may be hiding under debris or other objects.
- If you see a snake, back away from it slowly and do not touch it.
- If you or someone you know are bitten, try to see and remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
- Keep the bitten person still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom if the snake is poisonous.
- Call 911 to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Apply first aid until help arrives:
Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart. Tell him/her to stay calm and still.
Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
After a storm or emergency, recovery work in hot humid weather can cause individuals to overheat and have medical emergencies. Learn what you can do to prevent Heat-Related Illnesses.
If you believe someone has been electrocuted, take the following steps:
- Look first. Don't touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source. Touching the person may pass the current through you.
- Call or have someone else call 911 or emergency medical help.
- Turn off the source of electricity if possible. If not, move the source away from you and the affected person using a non-conducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood.
- Once the person is free of the source of electricity, check the person's breathing and pulse. If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
- If the person is faint, pale or shows other signs of shock, lay him or her down with the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body and the legs elevated.
- Don't touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to the hospital.
Updated October 2013