The Diseases Puerto Ricans May Have to Contend With After Maria

Pam Wright
Published: October 4, 2017

People take water from a tank in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 30, 2017, due to the lack of water after the passage of Hurricane Maria. US military and emergency relief teams ramped up their aid efforts for Puerto Rico amid growing criticism of the response to the hurricanes which ripped through the Caribbean island.
(Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images))

As so often happens after a deadly natural disaster, residents in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico may have to contend with several health threats.

Good news came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week when it announced that Puerto Ricans would not have to worry about a common health threat in the wake of a natural disaster, cholera, which can lead to life-threatening diarrhea from contaminated water.

Although nearly half of residents remain without potable water two weeks after the deadly storm struck the island as a Category 5 hurricane, there were no reports of the bacteria that causes cholera before the storm hit.

"CDC does not anticipate cholera cases in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands b/c of #Maria," the agency tweeted Sunday.

"There was no evidence of cholera in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands before Hurricane #Maria made landfall," the CDC continued in a second tweet

Although the cholera threat is low, the U.S. territory is not immune to other potentially dangerous illnesses that can be contracted through contaminated water.

(MORE: Trump Says Puerto Rico Recovery is 'Nothing Short of a Miracle' After Visit)

The CDC notes that diseases like hepatitis A and enteroviruses like Giardia and Campylobacter, which can cause severe diarrhea like cholera, spread through contaminated drinking water.

Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea. The CDC says it is found on surfaces or in soil, food or water that has been contaminated with feces from infected humans or animals.

Campylobacter is another disease spread through contaminated water. For most people, it causes mild to moderate diarrhea but for those with weakened immune systems, it can be life-threatening, according to the CDC. 

The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, had been reported in Puerto Rico long before the storm clobbered the territory on Sept. 20. Standing water left behind by the hurricane could become a breeding ground for Zika-bearing mosquitoes, Live Science notes. The virus causes a mild fever in adults but severe birth defects in developing fetuses, the CDC says. 

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