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Disaster relief workers, evacuees warned about infectious diseases, heatstroke

Firefighters examine a wrecked house caught in a landslide in Tennounishijo in the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture on July 8, 2018. (Mainichi)

Government officials and experts are warning people in areas affected by the latest torrential rains and flooding of the risk of contracting infectious diseases or suffering from heatstroke and catching the flu.

Those cleaning flooded homes and debris are advised to be careful of wounding themselves or inhaling dust as clostridium tetani, which causes tetanus, and legionella pneumophila, which can lead to pneumonia, could be in the soil and dust.

Makiko Yoshida, a member of the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control (JSIPC) and a research associate at Tohoku University School of Medicine, advises those in the flooded areas to "put on masks, sturdy boots, and thick gloves when cleaning up."

Living in an extremely hot evacuation shelter increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases because such a facility is crowded and unhygienic compared to an ordinary home. The JSIPC is instructing evacuees to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and not to share the same towel in a bid to prevent the spread of diarrhea and vomiting. Masks are recommended to prevent the flu, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, fever caused by a throat infection and mouth blisters.

Air conditioners or electric fans may not be available for use in shelters or flood-hit homes despite the scorching heat. Furthermore, "gymnasiums that are turned into shelters have a tendency to be hot and humid," warns Katsuhiko Yamamoto, associate professor at Nihon Fukushi University specializing in social work in disaster-hit areas.

It is recommended to consume beverages like sports drinks frequently, and to rest in places that are properly ventilated.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will hand out pamphlets with information on hygiene to shelters, and dispatch a full-time team to understand the needs of the evacuees.

The JSIPC advises the following for people in areas affected by torrential rains:

(1) Tetanus is caused when wounds get contaminated. Wear sturdy shoes and gloves when removing debris.

(2) Use masks to prevent inhaling dust containing bacteria causing legionella pneumophila.

(3) Receive vaccines such as tetanus shots if necessary before volunteering in disaster areas.

(4) Wear masks if you have symptoms such as coughing and sneezing to prevent the flu from spreading.

(5) Do not eat food that was left out in the heat and wash your hands before eating to prevent food poisoning.

(Japanese original by Go Kumagai and Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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