Doctors in Puerto Rico are reporting that they are seeing an alarming rise in the number and severity of asthma cases. They are, for the most part, attributing this rise to the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The Category 4 Hurricane hit the island back in September. Before Maria, Puerto Rico still had high instances of asthma. Around 435,000 Puerto Ricans out of the 3.3 million on the island, or 13% of the population, had asthma before the hurricane did its damage. That’s compared to the 8.3% of people who suffer from asthma on the United States mainland. There are no new figures for the number new of asthma diagnoses in Puerto Rico since Maria, but new data are on their way.
“It has increased so, so, so much after the hurricane,” said Dr. Ivette Bonet, who treats low-income patients at a clinic in the working-class neighborhood of Santurce.
Experts are saying that the rising rates can be a result of the relatively high humidity in the Caribbean partnered with the poor state of infrastructure and housing due to Puerto Rico’s high poverty rate and bankrupt government.
“We have never seen something like this,” said Benjamin Bolanos, director of the San Juan Aeroallergens Station of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, decreasing the humidity in the air to less than 50% can help remove indoor allergens that might be causing the high rates asthma in Puerto Rico.
Generators are being used on the island have been used for emergencies in hospitals, schools, and water treatment plants because the power grid still remains an issue on many parts of the island. They are giving off fumes that islanders are breathing in every day. There are still 1,200 generators operating on the island.
FEMA spokeswoman Dasha Castillo said that the generators currently meet environmental laws, but they are still affecting the people of Peurto Rico. Dr. Juan Manuel Roman travels the island to treat patients with asthma, and his regular patients are now seeking treatment much more often because it’s so hard to escape the fumes of the generators.
“They’re always going to inhale them,” he said.