We all held our breath after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. But there’s another U.S. territory that was devastated by both Irma and Maria. Aid is on the way to Puerto Rico, but millions are still left without power and the ability to contact their loved ones. And USA Today reports food and fresh water are at a premium for residents.
We’re hoping Puerto Rico sees improvement soon, for residents could face more dire obstacles the longer relief is delayed. And there’s concern a particular disease may affect those on the island.
The devastation on the island continues
The havoc caused by these two hurricanes striking back to back is completely overwhelming to over 3 million of Puerto Rico’s residents. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working hard to bring aid, but because three hurricanes hit the U.S. this summer, the island is definitely going to need more help.
The Miami Herald says 40% of the residents live below the poverty level, making the massive damage even more difficult to deal with. And since Hurricane Maria knocked out power to all of the island, hospitals are just starting to run off of direct electricity instead of generators. This is more than just a nuisance — this is a public health crisis, and here’s why.
A life without power, clean water, or communication is a health risk
In some areas of the island, power will be out for months — Vox reports it could take four to six months to fully restore electricity. And that’s not all — food, fuel, and clean water are scarce. While rescue workers try to distribute fresh water, there’s still no way to bathe or flush toilets. And many Puerto Ricans turn to fuel for their gas-powered generators, but stations are completely running out of gas or requiring residents to wait up to six hours for a refill.
If this continues, residents are in for even bigger problems in the immediate future.
The problem with standing water and high heat
There’s another problem looming over Puerto Rico — the threat of mosquitos. Vice explains residents are using buckets and bottles to collect rainwater for drinking and bathing, but mosquitos love standing water. And these bugs can spread life-threatening diseases like Zika, dengue fever, and chikungunya.
Natural disaster efforts typically make an effort to control mosquito populations, but they don’t appear to have a plan in place for Puerto Rico thus far. And the lack of shelters, air conditioning, and screens on the island increases the risk of a problem.
The hospitals are completely overwhelmed
Puerto Rico’s population already faces more health issues than on the mainland, and the recent devastation is making access to hospitals even harder. ABC News reports only a handful of the hospitals have power through generators. And even these health care facilities are running out of fuel, water, and oxygen, making treatment incredibly difficult. Certain medications are also running low, making those who have chronic illnesses at particular risk of death. If disease hits the island, more troubles are coming.
The awful disease that may make a comeback
It’s not just mosquito-borne diseases Puerto Rico may have to worry about. Wired reports the rivers in the territory may still house strains of the bacteria that causes cholera. In case you’re unfamiliar, cholera is an infection that causes severe diarrhea and can kill within hours if left untreated. The strain found in the water combined with the state of the island currently could be a deadly combination.
How a cholera outbreak could be devastating
Each year, researchers suggest there are up to 4 million cases of cholera worldwide. The good news is cholera is very treatable. But in Puerto Rico’s current state, an outbreak of this disease would spread easily and be next to impossible to treat. Intravenous fluids and rapid treatment are needed for those with severe cases. And having a safe, sanitary environment with clean water is vital for preventing the spread of infection.
The good news: Researchers say a major outbreak is unlikely
Wired reports CDC spokespeople don’t think cholera poses much of a threat, even given the current conditions. There was no evidence of the disease before the hurricanes, which is positive news. But they also note the risk for diseases like cholera increases when conditions are as dire as they currently are.
The publication also reminds us Haiti saw a cholera outbreak in 2010 after aid workers brought it over by accident. Large numbers of people aren’t currently visiting the island because of its location, but still — this is one way the disease unknowingly spreads.