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Puerto Rico gov’t bets on flyers, pills to prevent health emergency

By on October 11, 2017

SAN JUAN – Amid a potential health emergency in Puerto Rico due to a lack of potable water after Hurricane María three weeks ago, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced that the Health Department will launch a massive campaign.

“I have always established that public health emergencies are one of the long-term challenges we must not only address but also anticipate and tackle,” Rosselló said as he stressed that a great part of this prevention effort should be “informational” for communities.

Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, right, said four people infected with leptospirosis have died, but the exact cause has not been determined. (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

The campaign includes the distribution of informative flyers across the island on how to disinfect water, as well as about 1 million Aquatabs, or water purification tablets, and over 20,000 high-performance filters to purify water.

Among the advice included in the “Drink safe water” flyer is to consume bottled water whenever possible and to use potable water for oral hygiene. It also recommends to avoid drinking water from non-potable sources and washing utensils if the water isn’t potable.

The governor’s announcement during a press briefing served as a preamble to reveal there have been 10 reported cases of leptospirosis, of which four resulted in death. It is unclear if these deaths were caused by the dangerous bacteria typically transmitted through contact with rodent urine in stagnant water.

Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario said the death toll related to the hurricane increased to 44, one more than Tuesday. However, it doesn’t include the four possible deaths by leptospirosis.

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The governor explained that these deaths–two in Bayamón, one in Mayagüez and another in Carolina–will not be included in María’s death toll until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can confirm they were caused by the bacteria or another disease, such as dengue.

“I must still reiterate that it isn’t known if [the deaths] are a product of the bacteria or not because the bacteria’s symptoms are also the symptoms of other diseases like, for example, dengue,” Rosselló emphasized. Symptoms include fever, headaches and muscular and joint pain.

Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez said Wednesday his agency is active “on the streets” to prevent deaths from contagious diseases. The official assured he has visited several hospitals to ensure people receive “quality” service.

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“During this moment, we must be on the streets, we can’t be in an office. We can’t be dedicating [time] to bureaucracy, we must go out on the streets to prevent deaths. Now, the most important thing is prevention and education to avoid epidemic outbreaks,” he said.

Rodríguez said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will supply three spray trucks that, along with the Health Department’s own, will reduce the spread of such diseases as Zika and dengue. The department has also requested 70 spray units from FEMA.

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“The biggest problem we have is infections that can begin in shelters,” Rodríguez said, adding that the prevention campaign in the island’s 108 shelters will educate on proper hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer to prevent conditions, such as conjunctivitis.

To Caribbean Business‘ question regarding what action, beyond flyers, the Health Department will take to prevent a public health emergency, Rodríguez replied that the agency will work alongside the Department of Defense (DOD) to reach remote areas.

“We will bring volunteer doctors, we will bring medicine and at the same time, offering prevention campaigns with these flyers [on] how to correctly use these ‘Clorox’ pills, the filters. So we are doing a full community outreach,” the Health secretary said.

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