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Jul 02, 2023

LARGO — Hurricane Idalia has moved far past Florida, and the state has shifted into recovery mode. But the damage left in a storm’s wake can hide a slew of health risks, state and local officials said, including flesh-eating bacteria, sickening mold, carbon monoxide poisoning and car fires.

Those warnings came during a news briefing Thursday at Pinellas County’s Emergency Operations Center, where Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and others said Floridians need to take precautions to avoid illness or death after the storm.

Among the biggest dangers is vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria found in warm, brackish water. Vibrio cases spiked in Florida last year after Hurricane Ian, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with open wounds are vulnerable to the bacteria, Ladapo said. An infected wound may feel hot, give off discharge or fail to heal normally, he said, and the wounded person may feel feverish or confused. Anyone with those symptoms should seek medical care immediately, he said.

Water brings other dangers, too.

Standing water left by storm surge “is a perfect, optimal breeding ground” for mosquitoes, said Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. He reminded residents to use mosquito repellents, repair broken door or window screens and wear long sleeves if necessary.

Mold can spread quickly in homes that have been flooded, especially in Florida’s humid climate, Ladapo said. While it doesn’t affect all people, it can cause respiratory distress or more severe symptoms for those sensitive to it. Those whose homes or businesses have flooded should have them inspected by professionals, he said, and wet drywall needs to be removed immediately.

“There’s no saving it,” Ladapo said. “It will grow mold eventually.”

Nuñez reiterated that generators, a key tool in hurricane recovery, can also be a danger if they’re used improperly. If left indoors or placed outdoors but too close to doors or windows, they could cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Running a car inside a garage to charge an electrical device is a bad idea for similar reasons, she said.

And residents with electric vehicles — including some golf carts — should be especially careful, said Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins. The county has tallied several electric vehicle fires. Vehicles with lithium batteries exposed to salt water should immediately be moved away from homes and garages, she said.

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