November is typically the time of year when cold and flu conditions begin spreading. As temperatures drop, the germs get more potent.
But this year, residents in Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways, as well as many who helped cleanup efforts there, are experiencing more than just sniffles and aches.
A hacking cough, dizzy spells and constant headaches are symptoms some residents have been complaining about — everything from itchy eyes to painful urination, according to one Ozone Park doctor who did not want to identified. And he believes all signs point to one cause: Hurricane Sandy.
One man in Howard Beach had his foot amputated after a cut he received allegedly got infected by bacteria in the floodwaters left behind by Sandy’s storm surge in his basement. Another, Louis LiCausi, was hospitalized this week with a bacterial infection, believed to stem from cleaning his flooded home near Charles Park.
“Everyone’s been sick lately, it’s a little scary,” said Dan Ticali, who lives on 86th Street in Howard Beach.
When the storm surge submerged much of Howard Beach and the Rockaways on Oct. 29, it also caused sewer backups which allowed raw sewage to mix with floodwaters in the streets and basements. What was left behind was toxic bacteria that was inhaled, or worse, seeped into people’s blood systems through open sores. After the waters receded, mold became the next problem survivors faced, followed by the cold weather.
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said mold and hypothermia were its primary concerns in Sandy’s aftermath. Though mold tends to grow quicker in warm, humid conditions, it is still a problem in many flooded homes where the air temperature has not yet dipped below freezing for extended periods of time and the weather has been fairly moist this month.
Mold, when breathed in, often causes bacterial infections which can turn serious, even deadly.
The Health Dept. suggests residents with mold clean it immediately either by using soap and detergent to clean small amounts or by hiring a professional company. The department also recommends those cleaning up protect themselves by wearing clothes that cover up bare skin, gloves, and masks to prevent breathing in harmful bacteria and mold.
The department is also warning people against staying in their homes as winter approaches if there is no heat. While power has been restored to nearly every home in affected areas, some are still waiting for new furnaces and boilers that were destroyed in the floods.
“The weather is getting colder and winter is not far off,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner. “Living in cold buildings is not good for your health. If your building heat is not going to be restored very soon, look for another warm place to live until it is.And check on your family, friends and neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable, to see if they need help getting into a warm place.”
Though many attempt to heat their home through boiling water on stoves and space heaters, the Health Dept. advises against using portable gas heaters or items such as barbecue grills to heat homes because it increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Residents left in the cold are also advised to wear loose-fitting, dry clothing, cover their heads, hands and feet and avoid alcoholic beverages.