The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has issued a public health warning for the island of Puerto Rico. According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, without immediate aid and funding from the U.S. government, Puerto Rico could be seeing disease threats on top of extensive flooding and loss of power.
Local officials in Puerto Rico have already begun reporting cases of leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease contracted from the urine of infected animals often found in water, such as flood waters, or soil.
“We appreciate that the Trump administration has requested $29 billion in disaster relief funds and request Congress act swiftly, at a minimum, to approve this level of much-needed supports,” said Paul Auwaerter, MD, president of the IDSA.
However, the $29 billion requested by the Trump administration was not only for Puerto Rico, but to be spread out amongst the states of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas as well.
Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, said in a news conference with Associated Press that up to four people have died from leptospirosis and 10 more are infected. Compared to cold symptoms, which can sometimes last up to 14 days, symptoms of leptospirosis can be life-threatening. Without treatment, those who are infected could experience complications such as respiratory distress, kidney damage, liver failure, and meningitis.
Risk of infection has increased due to many Puerto Ricans taking to drinking from streams; however, many citizens have little choice. Only 54% of the island has running water.
Drawing significant criticism from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and many other Americans, President Donald Trump recently tweeted that the U.S. government would not be able to aid the island of Puerto Rico forever.
“Indeed, Puerto Ricans and U.S. Virgin Islanders are U.S. citizens and expect the same federal aid and support during natural disasters as the rest of the United States,” said Carmen D. Zorilla, MD. Zorilla, an obstetrician-gynecologist of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, said the standing water left behind by Hurricane Maria could lead to chikungunya, dengue, and Zika epidemics.
Other possible disease threats named by IDSA include waterborne pathogens, food-borne illnesses, and mold-related illness. The latter is often the result of flooding in homes. Clogged gutters, for instance, are the leading cause of basement flooding, which can lead to respiratory illness caused by mold.
“The impact of this disaster on morbidity, survival, adherence to treatments, and medical complications has yet to be documented,” said Zorilla. Hurricane Maria has thus far claimed the lives of 45 people in Puerto Rico. However, as the University of Minnesota reports, the number is estimated to increase.