Puerto Rico Officials Concealed Leptospirosis Outbreak After Hurricane Maria: Report

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SHANNON STAPLETON / REUTERS

Puerto Rican officials should have declared an epidemic of leptospirosis after Hurricane Maria but, instead, denied that it was happening, several medical experts have told CNN. A mortality database obtained by TV news outlet after suing the island’s Demography Registry lists 26 deaths in the six months after Maria caused by leptospirosis, a bacterial illness known to spread through water and soil after storms. Experts called the number “extraordinary.” Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego and an expert on the disease, said: “There’s no other way of putting it… The numbers are huge.” In November, Puerto Rico’s secretary of health, Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, told local radio “200 cases per week” were needed to declare an epidemic. “It really emphasizes the challenges we have in addressing leptospirosis public-health issues in Puerto Rico,” said Albert Icksang Ko, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “This information should have been public and I’m surprised you had to sue in order to get this information.”