Bacterial infections

The risk of contracting diseases increases after coming into contact with flood water or handling items affected by flooding. You should take precautions to protect yourself from bacteria that can cause infection or disease.

Avoiding bacterial infection

Here are some tips to avoid bacterial infections after storms, floods and cyclones:

  • Avoid direct contact with water, soil and mud by wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts, closed shoes, gloves and protective eyewear.
  • Practice good hygiene by regularly and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and uncontaminated water.
  • If clean water and soap are not available, use a hand sanitiser.
  • Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date, particularly tetanus.
  • If contaminated substances get on a wound, wash it immediately with clean water and soap.

Illnesses caused by bacteria

There are many bacterial infections that can cause illness after storms, floods, cyclones and the clean-up after these events. They can include:

Skin infections

Skin infections can be caused by different bacteria, the most prevalent after flooding are Staphylococcus aureus (often referred to as 'golden staph') and Streptococcus pyogenes (which causes strep throat).

Cellulitis, which appears as a red patch on the skin that is painful, hot and swollen, and impetigo, which creates yellow crusty sores, are 2 disorders caused by these bacteria.

Respiratory infections

Respiratory infections commonly occur after floods and often require medical care. Respiratory infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria, including Streptococcus pyogenes (also known as strep throat).

Symptoms of respiratory infections can include:

  • cough
  • sore throat
  • weariness
  • pains
  • chest or nasal congestion

Gastrointestinal illnesses

Gastrointestinal illnesses may be caused by bacterial, fungal or viral infections. Floodwater contaminated by sewage may contain high levels of E. coli bacteria, infection with E. coli is one the most frequent causes of diarrhoea.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses can include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach pain
  • fever

The most common complication of diarrhoea is dehydration, which children and the elderly are at high risk of experiencing.


Tetanus is caused by bacteria commonly found in soil, dust and manure. If the bacteria contaminate wounds, cuts or scrapes on the skin, it produces the toxin which causes tetanus symptoms. Unvaccinated people are at risk of developing tetanus if a wound is contaminated.


Melioidosis is caused by an uncommon soil bacterium that is usually found in tropical north Australia. Melioidosis infection often presents as pneumonia, with or without septicaemia (blood poisoning caused by bacteria or their toxins) and can be rapidly fatal.


Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Leptospira. People become infected through contact with water, food or soil contaminated with urine from infected animals such as rodents.

Further information