In general, the bacteria survive in wet soil for weeks, and during floods, this contaminated water invades other lands, endangering much of the population.
Doctors Lemuel Martinez and Victor Ramos talked about the possible diseases that can occur due to a natural disaster like storm Fiona. Photomontage: Journal of Medicine and Public Health.
Currently, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have declared states of emergency due to the possible arrival of Tropical Storm Fiona by the United States National Hurricane Center. Against this background, sp Medicine and Public Health (MSP) spoke with Dr. Lemuel Martinez, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of Puerto Rico, who offered his perspective as an expert on bacterial and respiratory infections, considering that deaths from bacterial diseases (more specifically leptospirosis) increased in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“The first thing is to take care of the food. If the electrical system is interrupted, chilled food is the first to be affected. And that includes the eateries. “It’s common for gastroenteritis cases to increase, then power outages, even without storms,” explained the specialist, who is also director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Doctors Center Hospital in Manatee.
The doctor also pointed out that there is often an increase in bacterial and respiratory fungal infections of the skin due to the increase in humidity. The problem with these conditions is that they crack the skin, allowing bacteria to enter deeper into the skin, causing infections. This is of particular importance in bedridden patients and diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathies.
“If they go to shelters, keep in mind that there are several respiratory infections that we can be exposed to. Although we are aware that the influenza virus can spread easily in these conditions, there are also similar respiratory bacteria such as Mycoplasma that manifest with similar symptoms. Try to maintain good hand hygiene, both with water and dry cleaning products. It is important to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough. Today, masks that protect against aerosol droplets are also available,” said Dr. Martinez.
How to protect against leptospirosis, one of the most common bacterial and respiratory infectious diseases after storms?
This is one of the worst post-storm conditions. It is difficult to avoid if people are not prepared. Generally, this bacteria survives in wet soil for weeks, and during floods, this contaminated water invades other lands.
“A lot of people try to protect themselves by wearing rubber boots, but they don’t protect their hands. Wear all protective equipment if you must be exposed to these environments. The main symptoms of leptospirosis are fever and muscle pain in large muscles (legs, calves). In severe cases, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and kidney damage associated with low platelets may develop. In these cases, immediate medical assistance is required, preferably in hospitals that are prepared with specialists”, assured the doctor.
General recommendations for prevention
Dr. Martinez says that a method of prevention The main thing during this time is to avoid mosquito bites. Repellents preferably contain DEET and high percentages (25-30%). To obtain products with a lower percentage, it should be applied several times a day according to the manufacturer’s specifications. This will not only prevent dengue infection, but also chikungunya and zika as they are transmitted by the same mosquito.
He also emphasized the importance of vaccination, presenting a description of the main vaccines against a tropical storm scenario, which are: tetanus, hepatitis, pneumococcal and herpes zoster vaccines.
“While it is true to emphasize the importance of preventing infections during natural events, we must also emphasize that it is a priority to take care of all our health conditions. Be sure to have your medications available in case you need to evacuate your home. Make sure you have enough supplies for several weeks. Insulin-dependent diabetics should refrigerate these medications and find neighbors or places where they can refrigerate them if they do not have refrigeration methods,” concluded Dr. Martinez.
People in shelters must take extreme care of themselves to avoid contracting viruses and infections
There are currently 345 activated shelters The recommendations of Dr. Victor Ramos, past president of the College of Surgeons and who would have been present at other disasters such as Hurricane Maria, are as follows:
– Try to avoid the crowds. It should be borne in mind that shelters Now they have to have places to cover pets too, so there can be more crowding factors.
-Patients who need specific medications should bring them with them.
– Those who need insulin should try to stay in a shelter that has an electrical system that allows them to store insulin. Otherwise, it’s better to go to a health center that lets you take control.
– Drinking water supply is vital.
In addition, the doctor in an interview for the magazine of Medicine and public health, also expressed that one of the recommendations is to be aware of others as much as possible. “The island’s health system is ready to face these challenges. However, we know that there are factors such as communication that play against this as well. Hopefully, as was done with Maria, the health care system can take care of all the needs of Puerto Ricans.