Hurricane health: The hidden dangers after the storm is gone

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The dangers of Hurricane Matthew aren't over just because it is spinning out to sea as a tropical storm.

Surviving 40-mph winds and floodwaters is one thing, but the cleanup process afterward can hold just as many dangers. Doctors caution that the days following a hurricane are when most people are at risk of injuries, sickness and even death.

For 64-year-old Daytona Beach, Fla., resident Jose Mariscal and his wife, Maria, life is quickly returning to to normal in the wake of Matthew.

Cleaning up debris, clearing out driveways and enduring power outages are minor inconveniences for the couple, who waited out the storm in their home just a few miles from the beach.

"I saw so many people go to the high school, but my place is better than the high school," says Mariscal. "Our house is 84 years old and made of cement. It was not going anywhere."

See images of the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew:

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Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Cuba
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Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Cuba
A man cuts branches off fallen trees in a flooded area by a river after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A woman stans by debris after the passage of Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A man fixes a roof of a partially built house after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Siline Crossaint poses for portrait inside her house, after Hurricane Matthew passes Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A Haitian migrant is seen as a child rests inside a shelter, after leaving Brazil, where they were relocated to due to Haiti's 2010 earthquake, in Mexicali, Mexico, October 5, 2016. Picture taken October 5, 2016 REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Haitian migrant walks near garbage at the Hotel del Migrante shelter after leaving Brazil, where she relocated to after Haiti's 2010 earthquake, in Mexicali, Mexico, October 5, 2016. Picture taken October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Isma Nadenje poses for a portrait inside her house, after Hurricane Matthew passes Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A girl cries as she stays with her relatives at a partially destroyed school after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man stands next to a destroyed house after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People walk down the streets next to destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A flooded river is seen after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People walk down the street next to destroyed houses and fallen trees after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A worker removes branches from the ground at the airport after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A man works with damaged property in the Carbonera community of Guantanamo, Cuba following Hurricane Matthew, October 5, 2016. The storm slammed into Haiti and Cuba as a Category Four hurricane on October 4, 2016 but has since been downgraded to three, on a scale of five, by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). Its winds were howling at 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour). / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Children are seen before damaged property in the Carbonera community of Guantanamo, Cuba following Hurricane Matthew, October 5, 2016. The storm slammed into Haiti and Cuba as a Category Four hurricane on October 4, 2016 but has since been downgraded to three, on a scale of five, by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). Its winds were howling at 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour). / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man is carried across the river La Digue in Petit Goave where the bridge collapsed during the rains of the Hurricane Matthew, southwest of Port-au-Prince, October 5, 2016. Haiti and the eastern tip of Cuba -- blasted by Matthew on October 4, 2016 -- began the messy and probably grim task of assessing the storm's toll. Matthew hit them as a Category Four hurricane but has since been downgraded to three, on a scale of five, by the US National Hurricane Center. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat is seen inside a destroyed house next to the sea after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Part of a boat is seen on a street next to the sea after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Residents walk on a street after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A man clears debris after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A man cleans out the water from his flooded house after Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Women sit at the entrance of a house damaged by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
A man walks in a flooded street, in a neighbourhood of the commune of Cite Soleil, in the Haitian Capital Port-au-Prince, on October 4, 2016. Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, triggering floods and forcing thousands to flee the path of a storm that has already claimed three lives in the poorest country in the Americas. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents observe an overflowing Guaso river in the Guantanamo province, on October 4, 2016. The most menacing storm in the Caribbean in nearly a decade, Matthew began battering Haiti late Monday with strong winds and rising sea levels, before barreling ashore some 250 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken on October 5, 2016 showing the state in which a road between Guantanamo and Baracoa was left after the passage of Hurricane Matthew through the eastern tip of Cuba on Tuesday afternoon. Hurricane Matthew, the Caribbean's worst storm in nearly a decade, barreled towards the Bahamas Wednesday morning after killing nine people and pummeling Haiti and Cuba. / AFP / Yamil LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of two siblings who died when a landslide knocked the walls of their house down during the passage of Hurricane Matthew, sits in the window of a house in the neighbourhood of Capotillo, in Santo Domingo on October 4, 2016. Matthew, a Category Four hurricane, slammed into the Dominican Republic and Haiti Tuesday, triggering major floods and forcing thousands to flee the path of the storm that has claimed at least three lives in each country. / AFP / afp / Erika SANTELICES (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)
A child stands on a street, after Hurricane Matthew passes Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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The whirring of chainsaws fills the air, streets are littered with shingles and foliage, and neighbors help one another rake away the ruin.

A beige house remains standing despite the broken palm tree resting partly on the roof and front porch. Little kids play and laugh around the tree, unaware of the seriousness of their situation.

"During the hurricane itself, very few people are coming in the door of the hospital," said Dr. Stephen Viel, an emergency room physician at Halifax Health Medical Center. "After a hurricane, there's really going to be injuries when people go out and start clearing debris, approaching power lines that may be down and trying to restore life to normal."

A line loops around a neighborhood Home Depot with signs reading, "We are open," and "Yes! We have generators."

People load up their trucks with the machines to restore much-needed power to their homes, bringing back the essentials of air conditioning and refrigeration. However, a generator can prove to be lethal in a just a few minutes with a silent killer — carbon monoxide.

"Be careful about the generators," Viel said. "The biggest thing we worry about is carbon monoxide poisoning when someone runs a generator inside their house."

Already, at least 14 people have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning in Jacksonville. However, the invisible and odorless gas is not the only health issue after a hurricane.

With the Zika virus already in Florida, infectious disease is a major concern because standing rainwater can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when water envelops the Aedes aegypti eggs, they hatch, becoming adults in just a week's time.

In addition, the lack of medical care available — because if washed-out roads and closed hospitals — makes chronic illnesses like kidney disease or emergency situations like heart attacks harder to treat.

Volusia County Deputy Fire Chief Noble Taylor said first responders have been making a number of checks on residents who have special needs — or just to stop by to make repairs.

"We have crews on the road making wellness checks, and we try to get a head count of how many people are injured or have structural damage," Taylor said.

So what can people do to stay healthy and safe as life returns to normal after Hurricane Matthew?

  • Make sure your area is safe. If you've evacuated, don't rush to come home.
  • When using a generator, keep it outside at least 25 to 50 feet away from the house.
  • Protect yourself from mosquitoes — use bug spray, and get rid of standing water.
  • Beware of fallen trees and downed power lines that may be hidden.

For now, the Mariscals are taking the clean-up process day by day and even hour by hour. They understand there's a lot of work to do, but they're happy to be safe and healthy after the deadly storm.

"I was a little nervous with this hurricane, but everything turned out OK, and we are safe," Mariscal said. "It will take some time, but we will be back to the way things were very soon."

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