Florida docs told to screen storm evacuees from islands for illness and monkey bites
Anticipating a wave of hurricane migrants from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida health officials are advising doctors and others caring for evacuees to look out for health risks associated with the aftermath of storms, including bacterial infections, puncture wounds and diseases spread by mosquitoes and animal bites.
In an Oct. 3 advisory, the Florida Department of Health urged healthcare professionals to ask evacuees about their travel history for the past month and to consider the risks those patients may have encountered — from a chronic condition neglected due to a lack of power to illnesses that spread easily in communal shelters, such as flu and scabies.
Another health risk highlighted in the advisory: Herpes B, due to a group of captive macaque monkeys that were released in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria and could spread the virus through bites and scratches.
Lillian Rivera, administrator for the health department in Miami-Dade, said Monday that the agency has not reported any cases of evacuees needing immediate medical attention after arriving in Miami International Airport, where a group of federal, state and local workers has conducted voluntary screenings for the past week.
“This is not to come and take your blood pressure or anything like that,” Rivera said. “We ask a few questions: How are you doing? What are your needs this morning? We do an observation of the skin, eyes, just in general … to see if we see anything that would stand out to us.”
The interviews and screening are voluntary, Rivera said. Since Oct. 3, about 20,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico through Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. The Miami airport team has seen about 395 evacuees, mostly from Puerto Rico.
The health department advisory, Rivera said, was designed to alert healthcare professionals at urgent care centers, hospitals and other facilities where evacuees might go to find care in Florida.
She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida Department of Children and Families, Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations also have representatives stationed at the airport to help with Medicaid, food stamps or finding a place to stay.
A similar screening station is set up at the Orlando airport, said Jeremy Hurd, a spokesman for the regional All-Hazards Incident Management Team out of Palm Beach, which is coordinating the effort in Miami.
Hurd said the Miami airport station has seen about 100 people a day over the past week, but that the numbers had picked up on Monday as word spread.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from families in South Florida saying, ‘Hey, my family member is coming over. If I get them a ticket, can you help?’” Hurd said, adding that the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity also is meeting evacuees and helping them find jobs in Florida.
“The stories we’re hearing most,” Hurd said, “are the people who are saying, ‘We survived [the hurricane], but there’s no gas, there’s no power, there’s no job. Nothing’s open.’”