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After the water recedes

The recent flood crisis across the nation has left whole communities devastated.

The recent flood crisis across the nation, particularly in Queensland, has left whole communities devastated. But as with many tragedies, among the stories of loss are the stories that give hope – the ones of people who go above and beyond to help others.

Many of these stories belong to nurses. There are reports of nurses working 10 days straight, back-to-back shifts because other staff was cut off from hospitals. While covering these shifts, some waited nervously for news on whether their homes had survived the inundation. Some didn’t.

Those who were cut off by the flooding offered their services to local clinics, while others hitched a ride by SES boat to make their shift.

One nurse who “lost pretty much everything to mud and water” while she was working said she was just doing her job.

Her name was passed on to Nursing Review by a friend who believed she deserved recognition for the resilience she showed, but the nurse declined the offer.

“I haven’t done anything more than thousands of other people across the state have done. I was able to get to work, so I did. It’s my job. There were so many people helping where they could when it wasn’t their job. They deserve the recognition,” she said.

“And while it is sometimes hard to see, I am lucky. I only lost possessions.”

There are countless more stories of nurses working in extremely difficult conditions which will continue after the water recedes, with health experts warning of the risk of disease and mental health issues.

Lifeline says it is already receiving a record number of calls from people in crisis and history shows there will be increased demand for mental health services in the future, the Queensland Alliance said.

Jeff Cheverton, CEO of the Alliance, an umbrella group of mental illness and psychiatric disability groups, said community mental health groups were preparing for increased demand from stressed flood victims.

“We know that many people have now got through the initial crises and are beginning to understand the enormity of the challenge facing them and their communities,” Cheverton said.
Cheverton said 37 per cent of community mental health organisations had reported increased demand in flood-affected areas of Queensland.

“Most organisations in flood-affected areas are struggling to support existing clients, let alone meet the needs of rising demand,” he said.

“Maintaining a strong social infrastructure is as important for community recovery as rebuilding physical infrastructure.

“As the waters subside and the last mud is shovelled away, we need to support the amazing resilience of local communities to recover and stay strong.”

Dr Robert Hall, a senior research fellow at Monash University 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.

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 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.

“The major issue is faecal contamination (of flood water) from sewage or farm land ... it has all the normal bugs that sit in sewage –- E.coli and salmonella,” Hall said.

“People just need to be really careful about food that has been in contact with floodwaters, it really needs to be regarded as contaminated.

Dr Steve Hambleton, federal vice-president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), said Queensland’s GPs were not yet seeing a rise in gastro cases and the jump in mosquito-related disease was not expected for four to six weeks.

With AAP

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