POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — With Hurricane Ian’s arrival, flooding is on its way. The Florida Department of Health in Polk County is offering residents tips on how to decontaminate their water while they shelter in place and as flood risk rises. The National Weather Services is currently forecasting 12 to 18 inches of rain, and a countywide flood wide expected in Polk County, according to AlertPolk.

According to Polk FDOH, skin contact with flood water isn’t by itself a serious health risk. Instead, “health hazards are a concern when waters are or become contaminated with bacteria and viruses,” the department said.

As evacuation times end and recovery efforts wait on the storm to finish moving through Florida, staying clean for both hygiene and hydration is important. Whether it’s for washing hands or washing up after changing a baby’s diaper, FDOH said to “wash your hands with soap and either disinfected or boiled and cooled water” to prevent flood water-caused illnesses.

If your infant is on formula, FDOH urges use of commercially-bottled water to mix the formula with. They also recommend avoiding any food or drink that has been contaminated with flood water.

If you’re getting water from the tap, Polk FDOH offered the following tips to disinfect your water.

Tips to disinfect water

The preferred method of FDOH to disinfect water is to boil it.

  • The first step is to bring water to a rolling boil for at least a minute. This will kill potentially harmful bacteria or parasites.
  • Polk FDOH said if the water tastes “flat” after boiling, add a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of water, or try pouring the water from one clean container to another until the taste is gone.

If you can’t boil water, bleach is option, though residents should use caution. FDOH said using household bleach can be a way to disinfect water, but with specific steps to do it safely.

  • Add eight drops of plain unscented household bleach (4% to 6% strength), which is about 1/8 teaspoon or a dime sized puddle, per gallon of water.
  • Do not use color safe bleach or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • If a higher strength bleach is used (up to 8.25% strength), only add six drops of bleach.
    • Mix the solution and let it stand for 30 minutes.
    • If the water is cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the procedure one time.
    • If the chlorine taste is too strong, pour the water from one clean container to another and let stand for a few hours before use.

If bleach isn’t available either, the Polk FDOH office provided instructions for using Iodine to disinfect. However, FDOH said to make sure to read instructions on product labels since each one might have a different level of strength.

  • Five drops of Iodine (two percent tincture) can be added to each quart or liter of water to be disinfected.
    • Note: Per the CDC, water that has been disinfected with iodine is NOT recommended for pregnant women, people with thyroid problems, those with known hypersensitivity to iodine or for continuous use for more than a few weeks at a time.
  • If the water is cloudy or colored add 10 drops of iodine.
    • Stir and let the water stand for at least 30 minutes before use.
    • Water disinfection tablets (available at sporting goods departments or stores) that contain chlorine, iodine, chlorine dioxide or other disinfecting agents may also be used.
  • Containers for water should be rinsed with a bleach solution of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water before reusing them.

Even if you don’t need to disinfect your water during flooding, FDOH urges residents to avoid contact with flood water, “especially if you have open cuts or sores.” If you do end up in contact with flood water and have cuts or sores, “was the area well with soap to prevent infection.”

If your wounds turn red, start swelling, or draining, FDOH says to seek medical attention immediately. Make sure to wear gloves and boots to clean up any potential sewage back ups at home.