Q&A About E. coli Measured in Katrina Flood
What is E. coli ?
E. coli is a strain of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and
animals and is normally found in all streams, lakes and canals. The vast
majority of strains of E. coli are harmless. There are some strains such as E.
coli O157:H7 that are harmful and can produce a toxin that causes severe
What strains of E. coli have
been found in the flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina?
The E. coli bacteria that were measured in flood waters
after Hurricane Katrina are not the strain that causes disease. They are the
harmless bacteria that exist in the intestines of all people and animals. These
are called generic
E. coli . These studies did not find E. coli O157, a harmful bacteria, in the
How did the E. coli get into the flood waters?
Generic E. coli is normally found in all streams, lakes and canals. When
there is flooding along with a hurricane, the waters may contain fecal material from
overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste. It is likely
that there are also disease- causing organisms in such contaminated water.
What can be done to prevent
infection from water contaminated with sewage?
- Leave the flooded zone
- Avoid swallowing contaminated water
- Drink municipal or bottled water that has been
treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants. If bottled water is
not available, boil water before drinking, washing, or using to brush teeth.
- Wash hands and feet that have been in contact with
the contaminated water appropriately with soap and clean water. If soap and
clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub to clean hands.
- If there has been a backflow of sewage into your
house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup. Remove and
discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected such as
wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and drywall.
- If you have any open cuts or sores that will be
exposed to floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with
soap and clean water applying an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection.
- Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water
in hot water and detergent and separately from uncontaminated clothes and
- Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas and do not allow
children to play with floodwater-contaminated toys that have not been
disinfected. Disinfect toys using a solution of one cup of bleach in five
gallons of water.