Beware hidden hazards

Returning to your home after a flood

When returning to your home after a flood, take precautions to reduce the possibility of illness, disease or injury. Before going onto your property, consider:

  • Damaged gas or electricity supplies – these hazards need to be declared safe by a qualified electrician or plumber.
  • The structural integrity of your home and structures may be affected – this needs to be declared safe by a qualified building surveyor.
  • Wild animals, including rodents, snakes or spiders, may be trapped in and around your home.
  • Cuts from broken glass and debris may be a problem – wear sturdy waterproof boots, and rubber or leather gloves.
  • Food may be contaminated by the floodwater, or spoiled due to power failure.
  • Drinking water may be contaminated – do not drink any water unless you know it is safe (bottled, boiled or disinfected).
  • Wading or playing in floodwater is hazardous due to the risk of drowning and potential skin infection through open wounds coming into contact with the floodwater.
  • Mosquitoes can breed rapidly and become a nuisance – cover skin with long sleeves and pants, and use an insect repellent.
  • If possible, use flashlights or other battery-operated lights instead of candles. Do not smoke or use matches, lighters or other open flames, in case gas has collected inside.
  • Pets and other animals may have died and need to be removed. For advice on safe disposal of animals, speak to your local council or veterinarian.
  • Flooding can cause excessive mould growth, which must be cleaned up before moving back to your home.
  • Flooding may cause sewage to overflow inside your home. Contaminated areas must be cleaned and disinfected. Keep children and pets away until the clean-up is completed.
  • Buildings may contain asbestos-containing material. Take all necessary precautions when handling asbestos-containing debris.

Personal hygiene is essential during floods

A number of infectious diseases, including gastrointestinal infections and hepatitis A, can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. The likelihood of illness increases when floodwater contains faecal material (poo) from overflowing sewage systems, agricultural or industrial wastes.  Never use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash your hands, wash and prepare food, make ice or make baby formula. Always wash your hands with soap and safe water (that has been boiled or disinfected):

  • before preparing or eating food
  • going to the toilet
  • after cleanup activities
  • after handling articles contaminated with
  • floodwater or sewage.

If boiled or disinfected water is not available, you can use alcohol-based products to disinfect your hands.  If you have any open cut or sore that has been exposed to floodwater:

  • Keep it as clean as possible by washing with soap and covering with a plaster.
  • Contact a doctor for further treatment advice (such as a tetanus shot).
  • If redness, swelling or discharge occurs, seek immediate medical attention.

Parents need to help their children avoid waterborne illness. Tips include:

  • Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas.
  • Wash children’s hands frequently (always before meals).
  • Do not allow children to play with flood-damaged toys contaminated with floodwater, until they have been disinfected.

Food supplies may be contaminated

Floodwaters can affect food through direct contact or, indirectly, by causing interruptions to power supplies, affecting local refrigeration.  Throw away:

  • food that has come into direct contact with floodwater
  • any food that has an unusual odour, colour or texture
  • perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that have been left at above 5 °C for more than four hours
  • canned food if the can is open, bulging or damaged
  • food containers with screw caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soft drink bottles), twist caps, flip-top lids and home-canned foods.

    For cleaning cans that are still sealed, not bulging and intact, but have come into contact with floodwater:

  • Remove the labels.
  • Wash the cans.
  • Dip them in a solution of 1.5 cups of household chlorine bleach mixed into 10 litres of water (a household bucket) for two minutes.
  • Re-label the cans with a waterproof marker pen.
  • If the power is on, refreeze or cook food that has thawed but contains ice crystals and is below 4 °C.  If the power is off, store food safely by:

  • keeping the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • adding block or dry ice to your refrigerator if the power is likely to be off for longer than four hours. Wear gloves when handling ice.

    Preventing illness from contaminated water

  • Local water authorities will tell you if tap water is safe or unsafe to drink, use for cooking, cleaning or bathing. If the water is not safe, use bottled, boiled or disinfected water. An above ground rainwater tank that has not been inundated with floodwaters or damaged should be safe for continued use.

    Correctly boil water by:

  • Keeping it at a rolling boil for one minute to make sure bacteria are killed.
  • If you suspect the water is contaminated with chemicals, boiling will not make it safe to drink – only use bottled water.

    Correctly disinfect water for drinking by:

  • adding ¾ of a teaspoon (4 ml) of non-scented chlorine bleach into a clean household bucket containing 10 litres of water
  • stirring the water well, and letting it stand for 30 minutes before using it.

For infants:

  • Use only pre-prepared canned baby food.
  • Make up powdered formulas with bottled water.
  • Clean children’s toys that have come into contact with floodwater by:

  • soaking them in a solution of 1.5 cups of household bleach in 10 litres of cold water (a household bucket) for two minutes. Rinse in clean water.
  • letting toys air dry after cleaning. Children and elderly people are particularly at risk from dehydration. Ensure they drink plenty of safe (bottled) water until the drinking water supply is declared safe.

Managing sewage overflow inside your home

Sewage contains harmful bacteria and viruses. Keep children and pets away from sewage affected areas until it has been cleaned up.  Appropriate clean up procedures include:

  • Use rubber gloves and boots, and eye protection.
  • Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be cleaned or disinfected, such as carpet and children's soft toys.
  • Clean and disinfect all contaminated areas with hot water and detergent, then disinfect.
  • Do not use high-pressure water jets on asbestos-containing materials.
  • Pay special attention to cooking utensils, work surfaces and other surfaces such as floors and walls.
  • For utensils, dip them in a solution of 1.5 cups of household chlorine bleach in 10 litres of cold water (a household bucket) for two minutes. Rinse in clean water.
  • To disinfect hard surfaces, use the same solution and leave wet for 10 minutes. Rinse off with clean water.
  • Disinfect cleaning mops, brooms and brushes with bleach solution.
  • Clean and dry dirty footwear, and wash your clothes separately after clean up.
  • Wash your hands and any affected parts of your body with soap and water.
  • For further advice, contact your local water authority or the Environmental Health section of your local council.

Septic tanks and floods

If you live in a flood-affected area and flood waters have affected your property, your septic tank system (also called an onsite wastewater system) may also be affected.

Wastewater from your home contains sewage from your toilet and grey water from your bathroom, kitchen and laundry. Wastewater contains human disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Diseases can be transmitted to humans from wastewater if appropriate measures are not taken. The safe disposal of wastewater is therefore essential to protect your health and the health of others. Ensure children and pets are kept away from wastewater affected areas.

How will I know if my septic tank system has been affected?

Septic tank systems typically comprise a concrete, plastic or fibreglass tank which collects the wastewater from toilets, the bathroom, kitchen and laundry in the home. In a functioning system, the solids in the wastewater settle in a primary tank, the wastewater is then discharged through pipes into soil in a designated area on your property.

Your septic tank system must be operated and maintained in accordance with the septic tank permit issued by your local Council and the Certificate of Approval issued by EPA Victoria.

Most septic tanks should not be structurally damaged by flooding as they are below ground. However, flood water may enter your septic tank system through the toilet, other fixtures or the overflow relief gully grate. Flooding of the septic system may wash out solids from the tank causing blockages or system damage.

Safety issues that need to be checked:

  • beware of open covers/pits
  • ruptured/leaking systems (including pipes)
  • damaged/exposed pipes that may need capping/sealing off.

    Failed systems are not easy to identify; however, some simple indications may include:

  • a pungent odour around the tank and land application area
  • blocked fixtures and wastewater overflowing from the relief point
  • high sludge levels within the primary tank
  • sewage flowing up through the toilet and sinks.

    Some onsite wastewater treatment systems may rely on mechanical and electrical equipment such as pumps, aerators and filters. This equipment may be damaged by flood or loss of power. To prevent injury or further damage to your system contact your service agent.

    What should I do if I suspect my septic tank has been affected?

    Do not use or flush your toilet until you know that the septic tank system and associated pipes are intact, otherwise wastewater could flow back up into the house through the toilet, shower, bath, and laundry drains.

    If you suspect your wastewater system has been physically damaged by the flood, contact a licensed plumbing practitioner to have it assessed.

    Septic tanks inundated with flood water, silt and debris should be professionally cleaned as soon as possible after the flood water has subsided. It may be necessary to pump out tanks, wells or distribution pits and slotted pipes if they are clogged with displaced solids.  Refer to your local business directory to arrange a septic tank pumping service by a licensed contractor.

    Cleaning or pumping out a flooded septic tank should be done with care as this could cause the tank to float out of the ground and damage the structure and pipes. After a septic tank is pumped out, it should be filled with water to prevent it from floating out of the ground.

    If the disposal area is waterlogged or clogged, additional water will not be absorbed into this area and will pool on the surface. Remedial measures such as pumping out the whole septic tank system may be necessary. This may need to be done several times. Saturated soil is especially susceptible to compaction, which can lead to system failure. Avoid compaction of the soil over the wastewater disposal area caused by driving or operating equipment in the area. In extreme cases the disposal area may need to be re-installed. A licensed plumbing practitioner should assess the disposal area for this potential requirement.

    For worm farm septic tank systems, composting toilets or other EPA approved systems, contact the manufacturer for specific advice on how flooding or power outages may affect these systems.

    In most situations turning off power to pumps may be necessary to prevent flooded pumps from overheating, wearing out or pumping out untreated water. In some instances, the pump may be required to be left on to prevent other types of damage – contact your service agent for advice.

    What should I do if sewage has overflowed inside my home?

    Sewage contains harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites. Sewage needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible. Keep children and pets away from the area until this is done. Some appropriate clean up procedures are:

  • Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as rubber gloves, boots, and eye protection.
  • Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be cleaned or disinfected, such as carpet and children's soft toys.
  • Clean all contaminated areas with hot water and detergent, then disinfect. Pay special attention to cooking utensils, work surfaces and other surfaces such as floors and walls.
  • Dip utensils in a solution of 1.5 cups of household chlorine bleach in 10 Litres of cold water (a household bucket) for two minutes. Rinse in clean water.
  • For disinfecting hard surfaces, use the same solution, leaving it wet for 10 minutes. Rinse off with clean water.
  • Disinfect cleaning mops, brooms and brushes with the bleach solution.
  • Clean and dry dirty footwear and wash your clothes separately after the clean-up.
  • Increase ventilation inside the house.
  • Throw out food containers that have been in contact with sewage, including unopened bottles.
  • Attend to any cuts and wounds immediately. Disinfect the wound then cover with a waterproof dressing.
  • Wash your hands and any affected parts of your body with soap and water.

For further advice, contact your local water authority or the Environmental Health section of your local council.

Further information

Onsite wastewater system:

Buloke's Environmental Health Officer can provide advice on remedial works, your existing permit or installation of a new system.


Refer to your local business telephone directory for licensed service providers.

Health information:

Contact your medical doctor regarding any health conditions that may have resulted from contaminated water supplies.

Other public health information for floods:

Available from the Department of Health and Human Service’s floods webpage

Cleaning up after a flood

When cleaning up after a flood, wear protective clothing, such as sturdy footwear, loose long-sleeved shirts and trousers and heavy duty work gloves. There may be asbestos debris in your home. Where there is extensive demolition, repair and renovation work involving asbestos-containing material, licensed asbestos contractors should be employed to undertake the work.
Flood recovery suggestions include:

  • Start cleaning up as soon as possible. Tackle one room at a time, making sure you are working in a well-ventilated area.
  • After talking with your insurer, as part of the clean-up, you should remove water-damaged possessions from the building (such as carpets and soft furnishings), and store these in a safe place. They may be required to be inspected as part of the claims process.
  • Sweep out water. Don’t forget to check for blocked drains in the shower and sinks.
  • Open doors and windows to help the house dry out. Open access doors to air the underfloor of your house too.
  • Consult with a building engineer to make sure your house is structurally sound.
  • Repainting and redecorating should be left for at least three months – until your house is thoroughly dried out. Painting or papering too soon may result in mould, blistering and peeling. Laying floor vinyl too soon may also trap moisture

Emergency Assistance  

If you are in immediate danger and require urgent assistance, dial 000.  If your home is about to flood call VICSES on 132 500.

The VicEmergency Hotline provides information during and after major incidents in Victoria. It also offers information to help householders, landowners and small businesses plan for and recover from emergencies. Call 1800 226 226.

Anyone with urgent animal welfare issues should contact Agriculture Victoria on 1800 226 226. For further advice on checking livestock, pets and animals after flood.

Flood Recovery Hotline

Flood Recovery Hotline is a single state-wide number, 1800 560 760, that Victorians impacted by the October 2022 floods can call for help or assistance with:

  • navigating available supports – including financial supports
  • clean-up
  • temporary accommodation
  • mental health and wellbeing support

The recovery hotline is open from 7.30am-7.30pm everyday. Call 1800 560 760

Emergency Relief Payment & Re-establishment Assistance

Emergency financial assistance is available for community members whose homes have been impacted by the current flood emergency in Victoria to help them to meet their relief needs. If you think you may be eligible for an emergency relief payment, complete theonline application form.  

For information and support about the relief services that may be available to you, and to enquire about a re-establishment payment, please call the Flood Recovery Hotline 1800 560 760.

Mental Health

It is normal to have strong emotional or physical reactions following a distressing event.  There is always help available through

  • Your Doctor, local mental health professionals
  • Lifeline – 131 114
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
  • MensLine – 1300 789 978
  • Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
  • Parent Line – 13 22 89

Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus update 11/11/2022

There have been no confirmed cases of JE and no detections of JE virus in mosquitoes so far this season. JE virus is only one of several infections transmitted by mosquitoes.

The simplest and best way to prevent JE virus infection and other mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid mosquito bites.

  • Mozzies can bite through tight clothing. Cover up - wear long, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear when outside.
  • Use mosquito repellents containing picaridin or DEET on all exposed skin.
  • Limit outdoor activity (if possible) if lots of mosquitoes are about.
  • Remove stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed around your home or campsite.
  • Cover all windows, doors, vents and other entrances with insect screens.
  • Use ’knockdown’ fly sprays, mosquito coils or plug-in repellent where you gather to sit or eat outdoors.
  • Don’t forget the kids – always check the insect repellent label. On babies, you might need to spray or rub repellent on their clothes instead of their skin. Avoid applying repellent to the hands of babies or young children.

Advise people of the importance of regular and routine mosquito bite prevention to help prevent JE and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Refer to  Protect yourself from mosquito-borne disease - Better Health Channel <>

Global supply of JE vaccine is limited. For eligibility criteria refer to: Japanese encephalitis - Vaccination <>

For emergency management workers deployed for prolonged flood recovery efforts from other regions, vaccination can be administered after arrival in flood affected areas.

Useful Links

The Victorian Department of Health provides useful public health information in relation to the recent severe weather events that can be used on websites, community newsletters and social media.

There are a variety of printable factsheets that can be distributed at community meetings, relief centres, libraries and town halls, or within your networks;