Brazil Floods See First Fatalities Due to Disease

Two people in southern Brazil have died from waterborne bacterial infections likely caused by the deadly flooding that struck the country in early May as health officials warned that more deaths were likely to follow.

The health secretariat for Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state confirmed on Monday, May 20 that a 67-year-old man suffering from leptospirosis, a waterborne bacterial infection likely caused by the severe flooding, had died. Two days later, the health secretariat confirmed a second man, 33, had also died of leptospirosis.

Since the start of May, the health secretariat reported 29 confirmed cases of the infectious bacteria.

At least 161 people were killed during two weeks of flooding in Rio Grande do Sul while another 82 remain missing. The flooding, which lasted roughly two weeks, forced the evacuation of over 600,000 people in the southern Brazilian state, while tens of thousands remain housed in shelters.

Health officials previously warned that cases of infectious diseases, including hepatitis B and leptospirosis, would likely surge following the flooding as the flood waters mixed with sewage.

University of Sao Paulo Medical School Professor Paulo Saldiva said following the initial deaths from flooding, there would be deaths from the aftermaths of the floods. He said the lack of appropriate drinking water would lead people to use poor-quality water from reservoirs.

Public health expert Carlos Machado, who was appointed by the government to track the impact of the flooding, said the outbreak of leptospirosis was expected in light of how many people were exposed to flood waters.

The unprecedented flooding impacted over 80 percent of the municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, damaging critical infrastructure. More than 3,000 hospitals, clinics, health centers, and pharmacies were affected by the flooding, according to a May 21 report released by Fiocruz, Brazil’s health research institute.

Machado warned that the interruption in available health services would also disrupt treatment for those with chronic diseases, especially since people evacuated from flooded areas often leave home without proper identification or their prescriptions.