Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, was associated with poorer health outcomes among HIV-positive residents of San Juan who had a history of substance use.

Presenting their findings at the 2019 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle, researchers analyzed data regarding an ongoing cohort of 219 San Juan residents with HIV and a history of substance use. All those included in the analysis made study visits within the nine-month period surrounding the hurricane.

The cohort members made an initial study visit and then a second one after six months—one before the hurricane and one after. At the visits, the participants engaged in a computer-assisted personal interview and provided blood samples for CD4 and viral load testing.

Seventy-one percent of the participants had a fully suppressed viral load before the hurricane, compared with 65 percent afterward. The proportion of those who were accessing medical care declined by 22 percent after Maria hit. Compared with those who had a fully suppressed viral load before the hurricane, those who did not were less likely to be in care and more likely to have lower adherence to their antiretrovirals and yet made more visits to a hospital, clinic or outpatient center following the devastating weather event.

The average viral load among the cohort members increased by 11 percent after the hurricane. The average CD4 count decreased from 589 to 553.

To read a press release about the study, click here.

To read the conference abstract, click here.