According to the National Weather Service, the North Atlantic hurricane season is approaching its peak. Hurricanes and other natural disasters don’t discriminate in their victims. However, poor and marginalized populations usually suffer disproportionately from flooding and other effects of natural disasters because they tend to have lesser-quality shelter and other pre-existing challenges, according to the Brookings Institute.
“People with few and modest resources are more likely to have a variety of chronic health problems, and these problems are more likely to become acute during a natural disaster,” said Dr. Andrea Gelzer, senior vice president of medical affairs for AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those in need. “Supplies of safe food, water, and medication can be compromised. And you may be cut off from doctors and other support systems that help you manage your health.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends taking the following steps to protect one’s health during and after a hurricane:
Food and flood waters don’t mix: Avoid any food that may have come into contact with flood water or was packed in a container that was water-damaged. If you lose electrical power, the FDA recommends keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to preserve the food in there for as long as possible.
Boil and clean water, otherwise don’t drink it: If your tap water isn’t safe for drinking, and you can’t obtain bottled water, boil it for one minute, then let it cool for one minute before drinking and storing it in clean, closed containers. If your water looks cloudy, you can filter it through a clean cloth or let it settle and skim off the top, clear portion.
Those who obtain tap water from a well on their property (as opposed to a municipal water supply) should have their water tested and disinfected after flood waters recede.
If the medication isn’t dry, kiss it goodbye: Medications exposed to flood or other unsafe water may be contaminated. As such, they should be replaced as soon as possible. Medication that appears to be wet or otherwise changed should especially be avoided. Health plans may (and in some cases are required to) allow you to refill prescriptions early and/or at out-of-network pharmacies during an emergency. This should help expedite the process of replacing your medication supplies.
Keep your insulin cool: Approximately 10 percent of Americans have diabetes, and research has found that type 2 diabetes is more prevalent among low-income populations than those with high incomes. Everyone with type 1 diabetes, and many with type 2, use insulin to manage their condition. According to the FDA, insulin should ideally be refrigerated, but it may be kept in manufacturers’ vials or cartridges at a temperature of 59 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 28 days. If you lose power, and, therefore, the use of your refrigerator, you should try to keep your insulin as cool as possible (though not frozen), away from direct heat, and out of direct sunlight. Once you regain the ability to properly store insulin, you should discard and replace any supplies that were exposed to extreme conditions.