Two new deaths in Puerto Rico linked to leptospirosis, an animal-borne bacterial disease, were confirmed on Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both cases originated from the municipality of Bayamón, Puerto Rico state epidemiologist Carmen Deseda told HuffPost during a phone interview on Tuesday. Deseda on Friday had confirmed the first death linked to leptospirosis in the municipality of Carolina.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria last month, there remain at least 73 suspected leptospirosis cases on the island, with one person currently hospitalized in stable condition in Ponce, Deseda said. Puerto Rico’s yearly average of suspected leptospirosis cases is just 63.
As of Tuesday, at least a quarter of the U.S. territory had no access to drinking water and nearly 76 percent of the island lacked power. Only 49 hospitals are currently running off the power grid, while many others are relying on generators.
Last week, clinical epidemiologist David Capó told HuffPost that poor conditions meant Puerto Rico was at risk for outbreaks of leptospirosis, influenza and dengue if aggressive preventive measures weren’t immediately taken. “The potential for outbreak is imminent,” he said.
Deseda echoed that concern on Tuesday.
“Well, there is a fear,” she told HuffPost. “We’re concerned that it may happen, and that’s why we have to let the people know that they have to take things into their own hands and [take] action to prevent this from happening. Because we have the possible factors that can contribute to the development of outbreaks to those diseases if no precautions to decrease the risk are taken.”
We have the possible factors that can contribute to the development of outbreaks to those diseases if no precautions to decrease the risk are taken. Carmen Deseda, Puerto Rico state epidemiologist
While some local doctors have said that little has been done in terms of preventive public health campaigns across the island, Deseda said educational campaigns are happening and information is being passed on via radio, Twitter and phone. But she also warned citizens from wading or swimming in bodies of water ― big or small ― which could be contaminated with the urine of diseased animals.
Deseda detailed other remaining medical risks for Puerto Rico, including a potential for an increase in cases of conjunctivitis and gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu.
“Gastroenteritis is one of the conditions that we have to follow very closely and monitor, especially for people that don’t have access to emergency rooms or hospitals,” she said. “We need to make sure that they have access to medical facilities so they can be hydrated to prevent further complications.”
With the confirmations of the fatal leptospirosis cases, the death toll on the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is now 51. But when HuffPost spoke to doctors about the disease, some expressed concern that cases were underreported or misdiagnosed.