MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Zamara Truitt and her professor Dave Bachoon test water samples from Puerto Rico for a bacteria that causes a disease called Leptospirosis.

"My family is from Puerto Rico and my family has not heard of this disease, and I've never heard of this disease up until you hear cases of death," Truitt said.

After three hurricanes hit the island in 2017, many people became sick from the disease, and some even died.

"People had to resort to using waters from rivers and creeks that they were not normally using, and because of that, these waters were not treated," Bachoon said.

Bachoon says the disease is spread by animals, particularly rats, that contaminated the flooded waters.

Bachoon's colleague in Puerto Rico sent the samples over for Truitt to test.

"We extract the DNA, and then when we have the DNA from those water samples. We use this machine in order to detect if there's the pathogenic Leptospira present," Truitt said.

In its early stages, the disease has flu-like symptoms, but it can be cured. If left untreated, it can cause major organ failure.

"If something like that happened here in Georgia and we had to use untreated water, it definitely is possible you could come down with diseases like Leptospirosis," Bachoon said.

Truitt hopes what they research now will help people in the future.

"It could help prevent the spread and the deaths of the infection of this bacteria," Truitt said.

Bachoon says it's difficult to advance the project since the research is not funded.

He predicts that global warming may spread the bacterial disease even further as hurricanes strengthen and hit even harder.