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Rubio to HHS: Take 'Aggressive Action' as Disease Breaks Out in Puerto Rico

Ruby Rodriguez, 8, wades across the San Lorenzo Morovis river with her family where the bridge was swept away by Hurricane Maria in Morovis, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today asked the Department of Health and Human Services to take immediate action on reports that Puerto Ricans are suffering serious health effects from contaminated water and lack of access to services three weeks after Hurricane Maria.

The death toll stands at 45, with the official total expected to rise as missing persons aren’t accounted for and remote areas are accessed and assessed.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón said this week that more than 86 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power and more than 44 percent still don’t have potable water. Four hospitals remained closed.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said at a Wednesday news conference that there were two confirmed and 10 suspected cases of leptospirosis, or “rat fever,” in Canovanas, in the northeast part of the island. Rosselló warned residents against bathing in rivers or collecting water from the sources.

Rubio wrote to Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan asking for “aggressive action” to help residents.

“In light of the island’s damaged infrastructure and its residents’ lack of access to power and clean water, it is critical that the island receives the resources needed to properly treat people who depend on medically necessary services,” he said. “Many Floridians contact my office every day to emphasize that their family and friends in Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from this deadly storm.”

The senator referenced the reports of contaminated water and contraction of leptospirosis, which can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and death. “I am very concerned that there could be additional cases of leptospirosis or other bacterial infections, and that the island’s lack of resources could prevent those infected from receiving necessary treatment,” he said.

“There are also ongoing concerns about patients’ access to consistent dialysis treatment and oxygen supplies. I have personally heard from providers and officials on the island that there are incredible difficulties in getting supplies for these services distributed to those in need. While I understand your department has taken steps to prevent this, I am concerned that there has not been enough progress on a plan to provide a long-term solution so patients and officials are not constantly struggling with one crisis after another.”

Rubio asked for “a complete update and assessment of the public health concerns still plaguing Puerto Rico” as well as clarification of the leptospirosis reports.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) traveled to Puerto Rico today, confirming “this is first and foremost a humanitarian disaster.”

“We do not forget that these are Americans,” Ryan said. “A large number of them fight alongside us in our wars. I’ll say it again: We are committed to helping Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands get what they need to make it through this difficult time.”