Hopefully, some nimble-footed researchers are gearing up to seize the opportunity (perhaps not quite the right word) afforded by the flooding that is now devastating Queensland and parts of NSW and WA.

Media reports sounding the alarm about snake infestations prompted Croakey to do a quick search regarding what might be expected as the short and long-term health effects of the deluges.

One of the recurring themes from relevant articles seems to be the lack of evidence in this area, especially about the longer-term health impacts and how to prevent/manage them. Yet flooding is among the most common types of natural disasters and is predicted to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.

Our dry continent has contributed to the international literature on the health impacts of flooding — a study investigating the impact of the 1974 floods in Brisbane is widely cited. (Not surprisingly perhaps, the evidence emerges largely from the wealthier countries although they are less likely to be flood-hit).

I wasn’t able to source the full article but here is the abstract:

The Brisbane floods, January 1974: their impact on health. (Abrahams MJ, Price J, Whitlock FA, Williams G.)

In the 12 months following the Brisbane flood of 1974, 234 flooded families (695 persons) and 163 non-flooded families (507 persons) were interviewed to ascertain changes in health status. We found that the number of visits to general practitioners, hospitals and specialists were all significantly increased for flooded persons in the year following the flood.

Persistent psychological symptoms, which included irritability, nervous tension and depressed mood, predominated in those seeking medical care, and the consumption of sleeping tablets and psychotropic drugs rose.

Increased psychological symptoms were significantly more common in female than in male flood victims and significantly more common in both sexes than increased physical complaints. There was no increase in mortality after the flood.

The incidence of psychiatric symptoms was directly related to dissatisfaction with help received.

Meanwhile, this article, published in the BMJ in 2000 after widespread flooding in England and Wales, notes that deaths and injuries not only result from the physical characteristics of the event but are also determined by the prevailing socioeconomic and health conditions of the community and any endemic infectious diseases.

Peter Fray

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