Flood Related Health Issues

Flagstaff area home after Schultz Fire flooding

Schultz Fire Flooding, courtesy of Jim Anderson Photography

The recent flooding in the Flagstaff area related to the soil damage from the Schultz Fire has resulted in emergency response from professionals and volunteers alike to help home owners in their time of need.   This response is a wonderful example of how our community can come together very quickly.  Yet the conditions under which people have been working are not without risk to personal health and safety.

The Coconino County Health Department has identified the presence of coliform bacteria and E. coli in the flood waters of the Timberline area increasing the risk of intestinal diseases and hepatitis A.   Additionally, the naturally occurring presence of the bacterium Clostridium tetani in soil has also caused health officials to be concerned of the increased risk of tetanus.

While the intestinal diseases are more along the lines of regular food poisoning, with abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the more severe illnesses are the hepatitis A and tetanus.

Hepatitis A is an infection from a virus from the picornavirus family.  The virus infects liver cells  and causes inflammation of the liver (hepatitis).   Infection comes from the ingestion of things contaminated with fecal matter, including water.  How this might happen in the flooded areas in in the flood waters come in contact with home septic systems and become contaminated with fecal matter.  If a volunteer working in or around contaminated water inadvertently touches his or her mouth with a hand that’s been exposed to the contaminated water, the virus can enter that person’s blood stream and infect them.  The hepatitis A virus is very stable and can survive on hands for several hours and up to two months on dry surfaces.

Hepatitis A may not cause any symptoms other than feeling “a little off”, especially in children.  For most people, symptoms usually begin 15 to 30 days after exposure and include muscle ache, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal cramping, fever and malaise.   A few days later, jaundice develops.  Jaundice is the yellowing of skin, eyes and mucus membranes as bile from the infected liver begins to flow into the blood stream.  There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A other than to ensure adequate nutrition and rest to prevent permanent liver damage.

Tetanus is a condition also known as “lockjaw” because it’s primary characteristic is the involuntary and prolonged contraction of skeletal muscle tissue.   These contractions are a response to the neurotoxin produced by the spores of the tetanus bacteria once they infiltrate deep into the body through a cut or puncture wound.  While many people associate tetanus with “rusty nails”, the spores of the tetanus bacteria can be found nearly  anywhere, including soil.  The rust on the nail simply provides a convenient hiding place for the spores and the nail an effective mechanism to deliver the spoors deep into the tissue.

While tetanus can be treated, the process can be lengthy and its effectiveness is not assured.   In severe cases, tetanus can be fatal, despite treatment.

The best defense for both hepatitis A and tetanus is prevention.  There are effective vaccines for both conditions and people who live or are volunteering in the flood affected areas are urged to receive free vaccinations of both hepititis A and tetanus.    The Coconino County Health Department  is providing free vaccinations through Friday August 6th  to residents, volunteers and field workers in the Schultz Fire flood area.   Vaccinations will be offered at the Health Department on King Street and at Cromer Elementary School.

More information about the vaccines is available from the Coconino County Health Department at (928) 679-7222 or at their website by clicking here.

– Paul Kulpinski, LMT
Mountain Waves Healing Arts


Coconino County

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Suite 101 – Microbiology

About Hepatitis

Mayo Clinic



About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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