Significant health risks persist in the Caribbean region in the aftermath of the recent passages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, powerful storms that caused significant infrastructural damages and flooding in recent weeks. Numerous health facilities have been damaged, meaning the level of available care is limited on many islands. Additionally, many areas are without running water, or available running water has been contaminated by flood waters, leading to an increased risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Furthermore, standing water from heavy rainfall and flooding increases the risk of mosquito-borne diseases as stagnant water serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, notably of the Aedes aegypti species, potential carriers of dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika virus, and yellow fever. More immediate concerns involve the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning stemming from improper use of generators in areas where power has not yet been restored.
These potentially hazardous and unhealthy conditions could persist for several months in the hardest-hit areas, notably Cuba, Dominica, and Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Irma plowed through the region September 6-10, bringing torrential rains and violent winds as a Category 5 hurricane (the highest on a five-tier scale). Regions affected include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthélemy, Cuba, the Florida Keys, and Saint Martin/Sint Maarten.
Irma was followed shortly thereafter by Maria, which also peaked as a Category 5 storm as it crossed the region September 18-23. Areas hit by this storm include Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and the US Virgin Islands.
Individuals in the region should take all necessary precautions to mitigate the risks of water- and mosquito-borne illnesses, properly maintain generators, and seek alternative arrangements for health care should local facilities be damaged.
Those considering travel to the above areas should research conditions on the ground and consider postponing their trips until the situation stabilizes.