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Advice for those travelling to countries affected by flooding

25 Nov 2022

Flooding occurs when an overflow of water submerges land that is usually dry and can’t drain away fast enough. Flooding can occur quickly and has the potential to cause widespread devastation, including damage to roads, buildings, public health systems and loss of life.

The World Health Organization report that more than 2 billion people around the world were affected by flooding between 1998-2017.

  • Heavy or prolonged rainfall, tropical storms, cyclones, hurricanes, rapid melting of snow, high tides and tsunamis are some of the world’s natural causes of flooding.
  • The frequency, intensity and severity of flooding events worldwide is increasing, and is expected to become more widespread as a consequence of climate change.

General travel health precautions

Health care systems may become overwhelmed in countries where flooding has occurred, therefore it is important to make sure you are in good health before you travel. Arrange for a check-up with your GP or specialist if you need to before travel and make sure you take enough medications to last the length of your trip and any potential delays.

To prepare for travelling abroad, always check the country pages on fitfortravel for information on:

  • specific health risks relevant to that country
  • recommendations for vaccinations and malaria advice
  • information on known outbreaks of disease in that country (listed in the ‘News’ section at the bottom of each country page)

Make sure you are up to date with UK schedule vaccines recommended for life in the UK and seek a travel health risk assessment if you think you may need vaccines and/or boosters before you travel.

Make sure you have adequate travel insurance covering all your planned activities, destinations and cover for any potential delays:

  • always check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office(FCDO) foreign travel advice for up to date country-specific information on coronavirus, safety and security, entry requirements and travel warnings.
  • be aware that if the FCDO advise UK travellers against travelling to a particular country or region, your travel insurance may not cover you if you travel against FCDO advice.

The effects of flooding can lead to serious health problems. If you are travelling to a flood-affected area, you need to be aware of the potential health risks and know how to protect yourself and your family.

Accident and injury prevention (including drowning):

Try to stay out of floodwater which may contain hidden dangers, such as:

  • debris (such as fallen timber, metal, broken glass)
  • fallen live electrical power lines, potentially causing electric shock
  • venomous and non-venomous animals such as snakes, rats and insects
  • dangerous chemicals which can cause poisoning and/or chemical burns
  • waste from sewage systems

Always closely supervise children around flood water to help reduce the risk of drowning accidents and exposure to diseases such as the ones listed below.

Be aware that injury can also occur from damage to buildings which may become unstable and collapse, or cause fires and/or explosions.

Diseases spread by insects

Mosquitoes can transmit many other diseases including yellow fever, dengue fever and zika virus infection. Fleas, bugs, ticks and flies carry a wide variety of diseases which they can transmit to humans if they bite you.

Puddles of water left by floods helps the conditions that mosquitoes, flies and other insects need to breed.

Diseases spread by food and water

Eating or drinking food and water which has been contaminated by germs (such as viruses or bacteria) or harmful chemicals can cause illnesses such as travellers' diarrhoea, hepatitis A, hepatitis E, typhoid or cholera infection.

The risk of these illnesses can increase in flood-affected areas, particularly if local water supplies and sewage (waste) systems have been damaged.

  • Vaccination against these diseases should be discussed with a travel health professional prior to travel
  • Always take safe food and water precautions and practice effective hand hygiene when you travel.
  • Be wary of any food that may have come in contact with floodwater, and any food that has perished
  • Know how to purify water for drinking if access to a clean, safe water supply is restricted
  • Avoid wading or swimming in polluted water which can increase your risk of developing wounds or infections of the skin, eyes ears, nose and throat.
  • Carry a first aid kit to help self-manage basic health problems
  • Know how to treat mild diarrhoea, and when to seek medical attention.

Diseases spread by animals

Flooding harms animals as well as people, often destroying their homes and habitats. Animals may be more likely to attack people if they are distressed.

Avoiding contact with animals is the best way to prevent animal bites or scratches. Be aware that some animals can be infected with rabies without being aggressive or behaving strangely

  • Children are more likely to approach animals. Make sure you check them for wounds, and encourage them to tell you if they are bitten, licked or scratched by an animal
  • Read the animal bites page for advice on how to prevent being bitten by bats and animals

It is important to check if rabies is a risk at your destination, and if so:

Snakes can become displaced during flooding and may relocate indoors or to outbuildings. They may feel threatened and attack you if approached. Try to avoid all contact with snakes and if bitten, seek urgent medical advice.

Flooding can increase activity of rodents (such as mice or rats) which can contaminate fresh water, damp soil, mud or crops (such as sugar cane) with their urine (pee). Diseases such as leptospirosis are spread in this way. To reduce your risk, you should:

  • avoid wading or swimming in floodwater
  • wear protective clothing if you are unable to avoid exposure to floodwater and limit you time spent in water
  • always wash / shower thoroughly with clean water after any possible exposure
  • cover any cuts or open skin lesions with waterproof plasters and wash/disinfect any injuries sustained during possible exposure

After travel

If you become unwell after returning home from a flood-affected area, call your GP or NHS24 on 111 (out of hours) and inform them of your recent travel.