Diseased Water in Puerto Rico Has Caused 10 Confirmed Cases of Leptospirosis

From [HERE] and [HERE] Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing at least 44 people, Jose Vargas surveyed street after street lined with mounds of soaking garbage mixed with mud, trees and sometimes dead animals.

You couldn't make a better breeding ground for rats, roaches and all sorts of nasty diseases, the public health volunteer said. And every day the fetid piles stay there, the risk of an epidemic grows.

Maria turned life for many of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents into a nightmarish scramble for food and water as overtaxed authorities struggle to deliver supplies, save lives and restore basic services. An estimated 80 percent of the island still doesn't have power and 40 percent have no running water.

Beyond the deaths directly attributed to the storm, officials say four other fatalities may have been caused by leptospirosis — a bacterial infection caused by rodent urine tainting the water from springs.

The are 10 confirmed cases of Leptospirosis in Puerto Rico. In both Puerto Rico and teh USVI, the disease was contracted following Hurricane Maria.

Six more people are being evaluated for the disease, which can lead to kidney damage, liver failure and meningitis.

In one Puerto Rico incident, Jorge Antonio Sanyet Morales, a 61-year-old bus driver, took a drink from a stream near his concrete home on a hillside in Canovanas a week after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island commonwealth of 3.5 million people. He then developed a fever, his skin turned yellow and within a week, he died at a hospital in Carolina, according to his widow, Maritza Rivera.

Dr. Juan Santiago said Mr. Sanyet was among five patients who came in his emergency clinic earlier this month with similar symptoms after drinking from streams in Canovanas and Loiza.

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira. Signs and symptoms can range from none to mild such as headaches, muscle pains, and fevers; to severe with bleeding from the lungs or meningitis.

If the infection causes the person to turn yellow, have kidney failure and bleed, it is then known as Weil’s disease. If it causes a lot of bleeding into the lungs, it is known as severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome.

The disease is not uncommon in the tropics, particularly after heavy rain and flooding, and its symptoms may sometimes be confused with other illnesses such as dengue.

Leptospirosis is transmitted by both wild and domestic animals. However, the most common animals that spread the disease are rodents. It is often transmitted by animal urine or by water or soil containing animal urine coming into contact with breaks in the skin, eyes, mouth, or nose.

If the island's debris and garbage aren't dealt with quickly, those numbers will likely grow, experts fear.

Jose Vargas Vidot is a doctor and local senator who has spent more than two decades providing emergency medical services in places like Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Since Maria hit, his organization, Iniciativa Comunitaria, has been operating a free clinic in a school in Toa Baja.

"There's no strategy for public hygiene," Vidot said. "It's not just about clearing roads but picking up debris."