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Post-Hurricane Deaths in Puerto Rico Underestimated

New estimate puts hurricane-related deaths at 4,645; many attributed to delayed, interrupted health care


TUESDAY, June 5, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The actual number of deaths related to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2016 is likely more than 70 times the official government estimate of 64, according to a study published online May 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nishant Kishore, M.P.H., from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues surveyed 3,299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico regarding displacement, infrastructure loss, and causes of death. The authors compared their estimated post-hurricane mortality rate with official rates for the same period in 2016 to calculate excess deaths.

The researchers calculated a mortality rate of 14.3 deaths per 1,000 persons from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017, yielding 4,645 excess deaths during this period. This represents a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate compared to the same time period in 2016. This number is likely still low due to survivor bias. One-third of the deaths were attributed to delayed or interrupted health care. In addition, hurricane-related migration was substantial.

"This household-based survey suggests that the number of excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is more than 70 times the official estimate," the authors write.

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