Town Meeting: Health

In "Good Morning America's" Town Hall meeting, ABC News Medical Contributor Dr. David Katz addressed the medical and health concerns of Biloxi, Miss., residents.

Susan Byrd: Our home is near a waste treatment plant. We're worried that our drinking water may have been contaminated. What should we do?

Katz: Assume your local water is unsafe until proven otherwise. If you have access to bottled water, use it exclusively until your area's resources are up and running and testing can be done on your water supply to determine whether it's safe.

If you don't have bottled water, then you must boil the water you do have. Limit your intake until fresh water supplies arrive. Boiling the water will kill germs, but it won't remove other contaminants like metals or chemicals. Boiling water is a last resort only.

Ganece Darden: It's been 11 days since the storm. Should I get a tetanus shot even if my wound has begun to heal?

Katz: Yes, absolutely! A tetanus shot will protect you now and also down the road. As you begin to clean up and rebuild you're liable to get more cuts. A tetanus shot is a great precaution to take.

Most of us have had tetanus shots at one time in our lives. But those tetanus shots don't last forever -- only about six to 10 years. If you're in the disaster zone and have had contact with those toxic floodwaters, now would be a very good time to consider getting a tetanus shot.

Keith Cook: My house took in a lot of water during the storm and now I'm afraid my home will be overrun by mold. How dangerous is that mold to me and my family?

Katz: There are two circumstances in which mold be a problem. First, if you or any of your family members has a weakened immune system due to cancer, HIV or the use of medications such as steroids. A healthy immune system generally prevents mold from causing serious illness, but if the immune system is weak, that protection is gone and there is a risk of serious infections such as pneumonia.

The second circumstance would be is that mold poses a problem for those who have allergies, hay fever or asthma.

Mold isn't pleasant and you'll want to clean your house of it. But the likelihood that mold will pose serious health risks is very low.

Linda Welter: As we've been cleaning up our house, my family has been washing their hands with water that might be contaminated. Will a normal antibacterial soap keep us safe?

Katz: Antibacterial soap kills most germs, but if you rinse your hands with the contaminated water that defeats the purpose because you just applied a fresh batch of germs to your hands. Try applying the antibacterial soap and letting it dry on your hands without rinsing it off.

Also, your water may contain toxins like lead on which antibacterial soap has no effect. Lead can be very dangerous if ingested. Keep your hands away from your mouth as much as possible.