Kerala stares at health risks

Threats of leptospirosis, dengue and water-borne diseases

People wade across a waterlogged street after being rescued from flood-affected regions following heavy monsoon rainfall, in Kochi on Saturday. PTI

Flood-ravaged Kerala stares at leptospirosis, dengue and other water-borne diseases with the government readying the health infrastructure to tackle the threats.

The administration has set up 3,757 medical camps so far and the first tranche of 90 types of medicines would reach the southern state on Monday, the Union health ministry said on Sunday.

Union Health Minister J P Nadda spoke to his Kerala counterpart K K Shailaja assuring all assistance from the central government side.

While no disease outbreaks have been reported so far, public health specialists say once the flood water starts receding, the environment would be conducive for epidemics. A big threat can come from leptospirosis.

“Leptospirosis can emerge as an epidemic nearly two weeks after the receding of flood water when rats would return to the population,” Alexander Joseph, dean, academic at Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram told DH.

Common rats are the reservoir of the leptospirosis bacteria and only a pinprick on the skin (or any such small break) is good enough for the pathogen to enter the body.

The disease begins with flu-like symptoms. After the resolution of the first phase of the disease, the patient remains asymptomatic until the beginning of the second phase, which is characterised by meningitis, liver damage and renal failure.

“The importance of the wide range of symptoms is that the infection is often wrongly diagnosed,” Joseph said.

“Humans get infected after exposure to animal urine, contaminated water or soil, or infected animal tissue through cuts or abraded skin, mucous membranes, or conjunctiva. Large outbreaks are associated with increased rainfall or flooding, which presumably increased the risk of exposure to contaminated water,” said K K Agarwal, former president of Indian Medical Association.

According to Agarwal, there were 538 cases with 28 deaths due to leptospirosis in Kerala till the first week of August.

Dengue is another threat as flood water provides excellent breeding grounds for the dengue-causing aedes aegypti mosquito. Considering the additional burden of disease, quick response medical teams will also be sent to provide emergency medical care.

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