Brazil’s flooded south sees first deaths from disease, as experts warn of coming surge in fatalities

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Vehicles travel along a lateral highway restored to allow the movement of humanitarian aid for those affected by floods caused by heavy rains, in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil on May 11. (AP)

SAO PAULO, May 23 (AP): The first two deaths from waterborne bacterial disease were reported in southern Brazil, where floodwaters were slowly receding, and health authorities warned additional fatalities were likely.
Rio Grande do Sul state’s health secretariat confirmed the death of a 33-year-old man due to leptospirosis on Wednesday. On Monday, authorities registered that a 67-year-old man had died from the same infectious disease. Since the beginning of May, 29 cases of the waterborne disease have been confirmed in the state.
The flooding over about two weeks killed at least 161 people, with 82 still missing, state authorities said Wednesday. More than 600,000 people were forced from their homes, including tens of thousands who remain in shelters, they said.
Health experts had previously forecast a surge in infectious diseases including leptospirosis and hepatitis B within a couple weeks of the floods, as sewage mixed into the floodwaters.
“There are those who die during the flood and there is the aftermath of the flood,” said Paulo Saldiva, a professor at the University of Sao Paulo medical school who researches the impacts of climate change in health. “The lack of potable water itself will mean that people will start using water from reservoirs that is not of good quality.”
The unprecedented disaster struck more than 80% of the state’s municipalities and damaged critical infrastructure. Over 3,000 health establishments – hospitals, pharmacies, health centers, and private clinics – were affected, according to a report from the federal government’s health research institute Fiocruz released Tuesday.

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