Is the Water Safe to Drink?

That’s the question many in Puerto Rico still have. Safe drinking water is more widely available now, but less so for those in more remote mountainous areas. From the Miami Herald:

Although government officials say they’ve distributed water purification tablets and bottled water throughout the island, by late October there were still places where residents said the help hadn’t arrived.

The mountainous area outside Utuado in central Puerto Rico was one of those places. Gambo Rodríguez and his family said they hadn’t gotten any bottled water or purification tablets from the government and couldn’t afford to buy their own.

Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread through contact with contaminated water, is a concern. There have been at least 18 confirmed cases, and are likely more that haven’t been accounted for in remote areas.

In the town of Humacao on the eastern edge of the island, local officials were still concerned about getting clean drinking water to the surrounding area in late October.

“I have 58,000 inhabitants and only one truck to take water to the upper areas,” said Ramon Díaz, the assistant director of the local emergency management center. Díaz was meeting with a water and sanitation expert from the nonprofit Oxfam, which was trying to identify the nearby areas in most desperate need of water purification systems.

“Which ones should we prioritize?” water expert Andrea Chaves Arana asked, listing off the names of several places.

“All of them, because they don’t have water,” Díaz responded.

When Death Lurks in the Water

Two people have died from flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis) believed to be caused by the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters. A 31 year old man who was working on recovery projects in the area and a 77 year old woman who contracted an infection when cleaning debris have died.  From CNN:

Necrotizing fasciitis spreads quickly, destroying the body’s soft tissue, and can become lethal within a very short time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, treatment with antibiotics can prevent death if diagnosed quickly. In some cases, surgery is needed to prevent the spread of this infection, which can be caused by more than one type of bacteria.
“The bacteria that caused necrotizing fasciitis are not strange or unique bacteria,” said Dr. David Persse, public health authority for the city of Houston. He explained these bacteria can live in swimming pools or natural bodies of water, and the flood waters, contaminated by sewage and fecal matter, just “happened to have more” bacteria than other bodies of water.
Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, where many people still don’t have access to clean water over a month after Hurricane Maria, an outbreak of leptospirosis is feared. Puerto Rico has reported at least 76 cases of suspected and confirmed leptospirosis, including a handful of deaths, reports Dr. Carmen Deseda, the state epidemiologist for Puerto Rico. On average, 60 cases are usually reported in a whole year. From the Huffington Post:
Leptospirosis is spread through the urine of infected animals, including rats, pigs, dogs and horses. When a person comes into contact with water, mud or soil that has been contaminated by an infected animal’s urine, the bacteria can enter the body through open abrasions or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current conditions in Puerto Rico are ripe for this type of infection…leptospirosis can be treated early on by using antibiotics. If left untreated, in some strains of the disease, patients may hemorrhage in the lungs or experience kidney failure and die.