Although Hurricane Irma has passed, the health of millions of people in the Caribbean islands and the state of Florida will continue to be at risk for the next few weeks and months.
More than direct damage, the most serious impact a devastating meteorological phenomenon such as Hurricane Irma has on public health is related to damage to infrastructure, which can take years to repair.
In fact, parts of Florida needed 20 years to fully recover from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
These are some of the health dangers after Hurricane Irma has hit the U.S:
1. Diseases related to contaminated water such as diarrhea and typhoid fever
Waters caused by floods can contaminate drinking water. Although authorities recommend boiling water before consumption, many people do not have access to electricity to do so or to the gas supply, which may be restricted for safety reasons.
The lack of clean water contributes to the spread of diseases such as diarrhea. The most vulnerable population, such as the elderly and the youngest children.
Also, where contaminated water is already present, it can contribute to the spread of typhoid (other than typhus) and even cholera.
Typhoid fever is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the Salmonella genus, which is present in some Caribbean countries, such as Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), “with the interruption of normal water supply and sewage disposal, as well as sanitary control of food and water, typhoid fever transmission and outbreaks may occur. Large scale if there are active cases or carriers in a displaced population. ”
2. Carbon monoxide poisoning
According to the Florida Department of Health in 2005, carbon dioxide poisoning caused 13% of all hurricane-related deaths. Also after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, nine people died in the same way, according to a state report on the health effects of tropical storms.
This is because many people who do not have access to electricity resort to the use of generators. But if not used properly, in safe and ventilated spaces, they can cause fires, explosions, and poisonings by carbon dioxide.
3. Zika, dengue, malaria and other diseases transmitted by mosquitos
Typhoid fever is spread through water and food contaminated with excrement. After a storm or hurricane and the recession of floods, many places of stagnant water remain, which are ideal habitats for the proliferation of mosquitoes that can transmit diseases such as dengue or like.
In some Caribbean islands affected by Hurricane Irma, there is also the risk of chikungunya and in the Dominican Republic and Haiti risk of malaria.
4. Allergies and disorders chronic or environmental contamination
The acid of lead batteries and the fuel of ships, everything gets mixed with the water and soil by hurricane winds. This could result in environmental contamination.
The document says that after Hurricane Harvey last month, more than 40 landfills with hazardous materials in the United States were contaminated.
Pollution does not usually cause direct deaths, but it can be related to allergies and chronic diseases.
5. Lack of access to health
The biggest impact on public health after a devastating hurricane such as Irma is the lack of access to health services, according to the analysis by the UN news agency.
Hospitals and health centers whose infrastructures are damaged can hardly care for patients with cancer or heart attacks. Also, damage to the transport network can interrupt access to medicines, and in some cases waiting 24 hours can have serious repercussions or even be fatal.