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Warren, Colleagues Seek Information on Water- and Vector-Borne Diseases in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

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Senators Express Concern About Possibility of Disease Outbreaks Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Nov 7, 2017

Text of the letter available here (PDF)

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to request information on the spread of water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) also joined the letter to CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald.

The letter expresses concern that due to the significant damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria to the islands' sanitation infrastructure, residents are at serious risk of contracting waterborne diseases such as leptospirosis, which has reportedly been diagnosed in people in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  "Left with no other options, many Puerto Ricans are bathing, washing clothes, and drinking from unsafe water-including streams and rivers contaminated by raw sewage.  On the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents are still advised to use boiled or bottled water for drinking and cooking, and there have been recent problems with potable water standpipes," the senators wrote. "Without concerted efforts to reduce the risk of waterborne illnesses, it is conceivable that other diseases could spread."

The senators also warned of the threat of vector-borne diseases such as Zika, which is transmitted to humans through mosquitoes.  Puerto Rico "recently declared an end to its Zika epidemic, but the standing water left behind from Hurricane Maria threatens to undermine this progress," the senators continued.

To better understand the extent of the problem of water- and vector-borne diseases on the islands, the senators requested the following information from the CDC:

  • Lists of all water- and vector-borne diseases confirmed present in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands post-Hurricane Maria and how many cases the CDC has confirmed for each disease.
  • Steps the CDC is taking to support territorial agencies such as the Puerto Rico Department of Health and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health in their efforts to test for and diagnose illnesses in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 
  • The biggest public health challenges facing Puerto Rico in the wake of the hurricanes and what the CDC is doing to help assist with preventing further suffering.
  • What resources the CDC needs from Congress in order to swiftly meet the public health needs of the islands' residents.
  • How the status of water- and vector-borne diseases on Puerto Rico compares with that on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the weeks since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:

  • Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
  • Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
  • Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  
  • Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
  • Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
  • Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.

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