Doctors in Puerto Rico say they are seeing an alarming rise in the number and severity of asthma cases that they attribute to the aftermath of the deadly hurricane that walloped the island in September. The chronic lung disease is caused by such things as pollution, airborne mold and pollen, all of which have increased post-Maria.
“It has increased so, so, so much after the hurricane,” said Dr. Ivette Bonet, who treats low-income patients at a clinic in the working-class neighborhood of Santurce.
Bonet says she has dozens of new patients who never had asthma before the Category 4 storm hit.
“Now they have this cough that they can never get rid of,” she said.
Puerto Rico had high rates of asthma even before the hurricane. An estimated 435,000 people on the island of 3.3 million, or 13 percent, had asthma before Maria pummeled the territory on September 20, according to Puerto Rico’s Health Department. That compares to 8.3 percent who suffered from asthma on the U.S. mainland in 2016, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. There are no figures for Puerto Rico in the months after Maria, though new accounting is under way. Experts say the high rates may be partly due to the relatively high humidity in the Caribbean and the poor state of housing and infrastructure because of Puerto Rico’s high poverty rate and bankrupt government.
It is estimated 4,645 Puerto Ricans died and as a result of Hurricane Maria.