By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the death toll from the flooding and mudslides following last week’s heavy tropical rains climbs over 670 in Região Serrana, the mountainous region of the State of Rio de Janeiro, public health concerns and fears of an epidemic have been escalating.
The disaster, which is the worst climate-related tragedy in Brazilian history, has devastated seven cities in the region (Nova Friburgo, Teresópolis, Petrópolis, Sumidouro, São José do Vale do Rio Preto, Bom Jardim, and Areal), leaving over 21,000 people homeless.
The chaotic and often unsanitary conditions resulting from the disruption of normal life for the residents, such as power outages, limited access to clean water, as well as streets filled with floodwater, worry the health authorities who fear an outbreak of disease.
Leptospirosis, which is a deadly infectious disease transmitted to humans through contact with water or mud contaminated by rat urine, remains of the highest concern, followed by hepatitis A, diarrhea, and typhoid fever.
Chairman of the Department of Infectious Diseases by the Associação Paulista de Medicina, Hélio Arthur Bacha points out that the risk of leptospirosis, usually seen in tropical regions toward the end of the rainy season, has been aggravated by the flooding in the states of Rio and São Paulo.
“This is a disease whose vector are rats, and with the floods the concentration of their urine in water raises, increasing exposure,” he says, adding: “Contamination can occur even without drinking the water.”
Bacha also points out that another deadly disease of high concern, dengue fever, transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, does not threaten the regions affected by the floods and mudslides. “Floodwater is rather inhospitable for the dengue mosquito, who likes the clean and still water found at homes,” he explains.
In the meanwhile, the possibility of another dengue epidemic in the State of Rio still concerns the health authorities, being an especially high risk for Baixada Fluminense, the region immediately to the north of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Alexandre Padilha, the newly appointed Minister of Health, recently visited Rio to assess the looming health risks, and participated in the symbolic opening ceremony of a specialized hospital currently in construction in Baixada Fluminense, which has lost 5,000 hospital beds in the last ten years.
President Dilma has also taken part in a meeting with Padilha, along with technical advisers, in order to create an agenda and a concrete work plan regarding the nation’s pressing health issues, in which quality care in the public hospitals, and fight against the increasing abuse of crack, as well as the danger of dengue epidemics were determined as the priorities for the next three months.
“Dengue is not only a challenge for the health sector,” said Padilha, explaining that their goal is “to give visibility to methods of prevention and control, to change the habits of the population, and to ensure fast and quality service to those who develop the disease.”
For those wishing to help the flood victims in Região Serrana, many locations in the region, as well as the city of Rio de Janeiro have been collecting donations of non-perishable food, clothing, mattresses, blankets, and hygiene products.
In Zona Sul (South zone), as of Monday, January 17th, donations can be given at the offices of either Christ Church or the British and Commonwealth Society (BCS), both located at Rua Real Grandeza, 99 in Botafogo. Hours are from 9AM to 5PM. Please contact the Church’s secretary, Karen, at +55 (21) 2226-7332, or the BCS’ Gaynor or Monica at +55 (21) 2537-6695.
In Barra da Tijuca, as of Sunday, January 16th, donations can be given at the Union Church, Av. Pref. Dulcidio Cardoso, 4351. Weekday office hours are from 8AM to 4PM. Please contact the Church’s secretary, Carol, at +55 (21) 3325-8601.
In the Metrô Rio, eleven stations have established collection centers: Carioca, Central, Largo do Machado, Catete, Glória, Ipanema/General Osório, Pavuna, Saens Peña, Botafogo, Nova América/Del Castilho e Siqueira Campos.
Monetary donations can be made directly to the municipalities in the region, to Rio State’s Civil Defense department, or to other funds set up to provide social assistance to the victims.
Prefeitura de Nova Friburgo
(Municipality of Nova Friburgo)
Bank: Banco do Brasil
Account No: 120.000-3
Prefeitura de Teresópolis
(Municipality of Teresópolis)
Bank: Banco do Brasil
Account No: 110000-9 (under the name “SOS Teresópolis – Donativos”)
Defesa Civil – RJ
Bank: Caixa Econômica Federal
Account No: 2011-0
Fundo Estadual de Assistência Social do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
(State of Rio Social Assistance Fund)
Account No: 00594-7