TUESDAY, Aug. 7, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Based on death records following Hurricane Maria, the hurricane-related mortality burden of excess deaths through December 2017 is estimated to be 1,139, higher than the official death toll of 64, according to a research letter published online Aug. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Alexis R. Santos-Lozada, Ph.D., from Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and Jeffrey T. Howard, Ph.D., from the University of Texas at San Antonio, calculated the number of excess deaths following Hurricane Maria through December 2017, using death counts from vital statistics records, updating a previous estimate. Monthly death counts (January 2010 through December 2017), including those previously unavailable from January 2017 through December 2017, were obtained from the Puerto Rico vital statistics system.

The researchers found that the expected numbers of deaths were 2,396 in September, 2,407 in October, 2,416 in November, and 2,697 in December, whereas the actual numbers of deaths were 2,928, 3,040, 2,671, and 2,820, respectively. This yields 1,139 excess deaths: 459 in September, 564 in October, and 116 in November. Overall, August and July experienced lower numbers of deaths than expected, while September and October had higher numbers of deaths than expected. The number of deaths decreased in November, with levels returning to within historical variation in December.

“Accurate estimates of deaths from environmental disasters are important for informing rescue, recovery, and policy decisions,” the authors write.

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