FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
A bodyboarder waited for a wave yesterday near "The Wall" in Waikiki. While residents on Oahu's South Shore were able to enjoy the beach in yesterday's sunny weather, Windward residents were being warned to stay out of the water because of the threat of contamination from flooding last week.
Is it safe?
Officials warn of disease as Windward residents clean up from floods
The state Department of Health has asked doctors to look out for suspected cases of leptospirosis among those cleaning up after last week's Windward Oahu floodwaters.
» Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease, transmitted through indirect (usually water) exposure to infected animal urine.
» Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting. If not treated, leptospirosis can be fatal or cause kidney damage or liver failure.
» It can be contracted through the mouth, nose, eyes or cuts.
» Those cleaning up after the Windward Oahu floods should stay away from standing water and mud as much as possible and always wear protective equipment, including waterproof gloves and boots.
» The incubation period for leptospirosis is between three and 30 days after exposure. Those who have had exposure to flood waters and experience symptoms of leptospirosis should seek medical attention.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health
City and state officials are also concerned about sewage-borne diseases, which could be present in the ocean or in standing water. More than 148,000 gallons of sewage ran into waters off Windward Oahu during torrential rains Thursday and Friday, the city said. There have also been reports of septic tanks overflowing in flooded areas, pooling sewage in yards.
"It's obvious that a lot of water is going to be containing some type of contaminants, whether it be sewage, whether it be leptospirosis," Oahu Civil Defense spokesman John Cummings said. "People need to be careful."
Sarah Park, state Health Department deputy chief, put out an alert to physicians Friday, asking them to "consider leptospirosis in the differential diagnosis of patients who present with fever ... after exposure to floodwaters or residual mud from flooding."
After the Manoa flood in October 2004, there were two confirmed cases of leptospirosis. The first happened when a professor who had blisters on his feet walked through his flooded University of Hawaii at Manoa lab wearing sandals. The second involved his graduate assistant.
Additionally, a recently released state Health Department report said at least 90 people who helped in the UH-Manoa cleanup reported becoming "ill with fever" within 30 days of coming in contact with floodwaters.
Only about half of those who got sick were screened, testing negative for leptospirosis.
State Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said "many of our streams" have leptospirosis. Windward Oahu's Kahana Stream is known to be a hot spot for the bacterial disease, which can get into the body through open cuts along with the mouth, nose and eyes.
People are usually exposed to leptospirosis through water contaminated with urine from infected animals.
"The thing that we mainly stress is to think safety first," she said. "There are a lot of risks out there after a flood."
Meanwhile, warning signs remain posted at several beaches on the Windward Coast and North Shore. After the heavy rains, the city reported eight sewage spills, including a 102,000-gallon spill in Kaneohe and a 31,230-gallon spill in Enchanted Lake.
Okubo said residents should stay out of the water if it looks muddy, even if there are no signs posted. Murky water usually means there is runoff present, which could contain bacteria.
Cummings, who was helping coordinate relief efforts yesterday in Windward Oahu, said he has seen many people using common sense as they clean up flooded homes and yards.
"I see folks with rubber gloves on, with rubber boots," he said, adding that people should wash well after working in mud or standing water. He also said that he is concerned about mold growing in homes in coming days, posing problems for those with respiratory ailments.