USF doctor helps healing in Puerto Rico

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The University of South Florida is lending some of its doctors to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Over the course of the next few months, 12 doctors with USF Health plan to travel to Puerto Rico to provide medical supplies and assistance at local hospitals and health facilities.

Dr. Asa Oxner, who practices internal medicine, made the first 5-day trip last week along with other USF Health officials.

She said major cities on the island, like San Juan and Ponce, have slowly gotten back on the grid, but rural, mountainous areas remain without power. The areas are still suffering from widespread damage.

"We would kind of have to jump around from one house where they had running water, so we would have to go to the bathroom there, then go stay at this other house, because they had a free bed available, then go try to charge our phones at a third place, because they had a generator," explained Oxner.

Oxner said during her trip she met with patients with chronic illnesses, such as respiratory issues or diabetes, who have had little access to their medication since Hurricane Maria.

She said the greatest medical concern doctors have for healthy residents is the lack of access to clean water.

"Contaminated water is already starting to spread some water-borne disease. The big one that's coming right now is leptospirosis, which is spread from rats who are drinking the water, and then the water is being shared by humans," said Oxner.

According to Oxner, so far 10-15 cases of leptospirosis have been reported, but there could be more in places where people don't have access to cell phones to communicate with doctors.

Many residents have requested mosquito spray to ward off the risk of Zika, due to standing water created in some areas each day it rains.

USF Health officials said they are working to set up a supply chain in order to ship and deliver medicine to Puerto Rico. Helping people in need is the core of their mission.

"They're people and they need help," said Donald Mullins, the director of Safety and Preparedness. "USF Health's motto is making life better, and that's not just here in the Tampa Bay area."