Harvey floodwaters carry high levels of E coli, toxins: 5 things to know

Researchers from Houston's Baylor Medical College and Rice University identified high levels of potentially infectious bacteria and toxins in floodwaters from two Houston neighborhoods, according to a laboratory analysis organized and funded by The New York Times.

Here are five things to know.

1. Floodwaters in one area — the Houston Energy Corridor — contained E. coli bacteria at levels four times beyond what is considered safe. The high levels of the bacteria are indicative of fecal contamination, as floodwaters can compromise city sewage systems.

2. Samples from standing water in a family's living room in Clayton Homes, a public housing development in downtown Houston, displayed levels of E. coli 135 times more than what is considered safe. Additionally, testing revealed elevated levels of lead and arsenic in sediment from the floodwaters in the kitchen.

"It suggests to me that conditions inside the home are more ideal for bacteria to grow and concentrate," Lauren Stadler, PhD, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, told the Times. "It's warmer and the water has stagnated for days and days. I know some kids were playing in the floodwater outside those places. That's concerning to me."

3. David Persse, MD, Houston's CMO of Emergency Medical Services, told the Times residents looking after children should keep them out of homes until they've been adequately cleaned.

4. Beau Briese, MD, an emergency room physician at Houston Methodist Hospital told the Times he's seen double the amount of reddened skin infections known as cellulitis since Harvey. The infections, which were likely caused from exposure to the contaminated floodwaters, have been successfully treated with antibiotics.

5. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have publicly expressed concern regarding contaminated floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but have not released information on test results from water sampling they may have done, according to the Times.

More articles on infection control: 
12 patients catch rare SSI linked to contaminated heater-cooler at Children's Hospital in New Orleans 
Texas man contracts flesh-eating bacteria in Harvey floodwaters
Top 10 infection control stories, Sept. 4-8

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