Houston health officials warn homeowners about slight uptick in diseases after Harvey

Harris County Public Health officials are going door to door to warn homeowners.

ByABC News
September 29, 2017, 8:21 AM

— -- One month after Harvey hit Texas, Houston residents are still cleaning up, with some even having to gut their homes after the devastation caused by the floodwaters.

Now public health officials from Harris County are going door to door to warn homeowners about the dangers still lurking in their Harvey-affected homes.

“What we say is when in doubt throw it out, or when in doubt tear it out,” Harris County Executive Director of Public Health Dr. Umir Shah told one resident.

The Public Health Department is now seeing a slight increase in floodwater-related illnesses like respiratory disease and skin and gastrointestinal infections post-Harvey, Shah told ABC News.

“We’ve have had this increase that really makes us concerned,” he said.

Nancy Reed, 77, of the Kingwood area of northeast Houston, died this month from necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria, the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office ruled.

Reed died after she fell in her home that was contaminated by floodwater.

To help prevent future deaths, more than 100 Harris County Public Health employees are going into the community to hand out cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. They even set up mobile wellness units for residents to seek help and get information.

“It contains sewage. It contains runoff from who knows what,” Dr. James McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, told ABC News of the water left in Harvey's wake.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management estimates that more than 160,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during Harvey. The storm hit Texas as a Category 4 hurricane and dumped record-breaking levels of rain on Houston and the surrounding areas.

Just days after the storm, "Good Morning America" asked researchers from Texas A&M University to test the floodwaters.

In the small sampling collected, E. coli numbers were more than 125 times higher than the amount the Environmental Protection Agency recommends being exposed to while swimming.

J.R. Atkins, of Missouri City, Texas, know how serious the floodwaters can be.

Atkins told ABC News his skin was exposed to Harvey floodwaters where he had a mosquito bite.

He said his hand was only exposed to water for a matter of two or three seconds. Doctors later told him he was also suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, he said.

“I ended up in the hospital for 11 days," Atkins said. "[I spent] five days in the ICU, went into septic shock and had three surgeries done.” He said he is expected to make a full recovery.

Shah said he hopes the Houston community is able to come together after Harvey.

“Harvey hit us where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we worship," he said. "Now our job is to build an even healthier and more resilient community than ever.”