Australian health experts warn of disease, psychological harm after floods

15:45, January 18, 2011      

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Australian health experts on Tuesday warned of the risk of disease and psychological harm that will remain long after the nation's floodwaters recede.

While the environmental disaster shifts into the clean-up phase in Queensland, which went through the worst floods in history, waters are still rising in 41 of Victorian towns.

Dr. Robert Hall, a senior research fellow at Monash University in Australia, said the floods pose much more than a drowning threat.

"For me there are three major issues," Dr. Hall, who has a 30- year background in public health and communicable disease, told Australia Associated Press (AAP) on Tuesday.

"... The immediate being drowning and injury, then a medium- term issue around infectious risks and being careful with food and water, and the third thing, which is immediate and in longer term.

"Some people will have lost everything, even family members ... there will be a need for psychological and other kinds of support and we can expect that to go on for quite some time."

Dr. Hall said the major infection threat came from bacteria carried in the contaminated floodwaters, that in minor cases would cause infections in cuts or gastroenteritis if swallowed.

According to AAP, there have already been a handful of Queensland-based cases of more serious infections including melioidosis, a bacteria that lives in tropic-area soils and has not been seen in Brisbane of Queensland since the 1974 floods.

Large amounts of pooled water should also prompt a surge in mosquito numbers and so the transmission of mosquito-borne disease, particularly Ross River virus and dengue fever.

Dr. Hall added that the major issue is faecal contamination of flood water from sewage or farm land.

On the other hand, Queensland-based General Practices (GPs) are now facing an influx of people seeking tetanus injections, as a precaution for superficial injuries received during the clean-up effort.

Dr. Steve Hambleton, federal vice-president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), said there was an emerging need for the community, and children in particular, to "debrief" and come to terms with what had occurred.

"We've just got to be careful of our mental wellness," Dr Hambleton told AAP on Tuesday.

"... And we haven't even really thought about the farmers yet, where millions of dollars worth of stuff that is collectively gone.

"They've had a drought for so long, their first crops were coming up and just when they thought they were going to get their head above water, the water has gone above their head."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was in Sydney for the third round of Australia-UK ministerial talks, on Tuesday announced to send British flood experts to Australia to help clean up southeast Queensland, and advise the region on coping with future deluges.

Specialists in flood forecasting, such as meteorologists and hydrologists, will accompany them.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the federal government was pleased to accept Hague's offer of help.

The two ministers will visit Brisbane of Queensland on Wednesday morning to inspect recovery work.

Source: Xinhua
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