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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Health Dept. reports 4 confirmed deaths associated with hurricane, 12 more under investigation

Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López

By The Star Staff

The island Health Department has reported some 16 deaths associated with the havoc caused by Hurricane Fiona last weekend.

Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López on Saturday cited the contents of the Fatalities Surveillance Report associated with Hurricane Fiona.

Of the 16 cases, he said, one of the fatalities was a direct result of the atmospheric event, three were indirect deaths, and 12 remain under investigation.

“The first Surveillance report contains fatalities by health region, as well as some variables,” the secretary said in a written statement. “As death certificates are registered with the Demographic Registry, and the deaths are confirmed to be associated with Hurricane Fiona, we will be able to have a clearer picture.”

He said all fatalities would remain under investigation until the death certificates are registered with the Demographic Registry.

According to the report, Hurricane Fiona directly caused the death of a 58-year-old Bayamón man. The three deaths classified as indirectly caused by the hurricane are those of a 50-year-old man from the Mayagüez region, a 56-year-old man from the Caguas region, and a 74-year-old woman from the Caguas region.

The Department’s Office of Epidemiology and Investigation will issue the Surveillance Report with new data every day between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. through the official emergency portal of the Government of Puerto Rico (PREPS by its English acronym) and on the website of the Department of Health. The PREPS portal also reported that 67% of the island’s hospitals had energy as of Saturday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Reference Guide for the Certification of Deaths Related to Disasters” explains that in a case confirmed as death directly caused by Hurricane Fiona, the death certificate must establish Hurricane Fiona, or its equivalent, as a factor in the cause of death. These could be deaths caused by burns, crushing, drowning, electrocution, falls, inhalation of gasses or smoke from a fire, and radiation or chemical poisoning, among others.

Fatalities indirectly caused by Hurricane Fiona occur when unsafe or unsanitary conditions are present during any phase of a disaster. These may result from the acute exacerbation of chronic diseases, loss or interruption of public services, cleanup after a disaster, escaping or fleeing from a disaster, evacuation, failure or interruption of transportation services, or use of temporary shelters or supplies.

As part of the registration process, the Health chief noted that the Institute of Forensic Sciences (ICF) and funeral agents have three days to deliver a death certificate to the Demographic Registry.

Mellado López stressed that health professionals should review the Reference Guide and complete all the boxes on the death certificate. For mortality data related to a disaster, such as Hurricane Fiona, to be adjudicated, physicians must enter the name and type of event in the form.

According to Law 24, the registration or inscription of a death certificate begins when the medical practitioner certifies the cause of death and the funeral agent completes the data.

The Demographic Registry does not accept death certificates that are not fully documented in all their parts or classified by the corresponding professional.

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