Kerala is facing the aftermath of the devastating floods that crippled the state for the last fortnight. According to The News Minute, Health Department officials have reported an increase in the number of leptospirosis cases.
According to the publication, an alert from the Directorate of Health Services on August 28th, stated, “There is a sudden increase of Leptospirosis from Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kannur districts. All of them had indirect contact with flood water. You may take this situation very seriously and alert the entire clinical team of your district. Any fever with myalgia to be taken as Leptospirosis and to be treated accordingly until further orders.”
This is not the first time that leptospirosis or ‘rat fever’ as it is popularly known, has affected the state. In 2017, there were 1,408 confirmed cases in Kerala, of which 80 deaths were reported, and in 2016, there were 1,710 cases, of which 35 deaths occurred.
So what is this deadly disease, and what can you do to keep it at bay?
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that spreads through the urine of infected animals. The animals may never show symptoms, but they are carriers. The bacteria in question is leptospira, and ‘rat fever’ occurs through direct contact with body fluids or soil and water contact.
The symptoms of leptospirosis in humans include high fever, muscle pain, headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, jaundice, skin rash, chills and reddish eyes.
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If left untreated, leptospirosis can lead to complications, like meningitis, liver failure, respiratory issues, kidney damage and can even be fatal.
So, how do you protect yourself from this disease?
1. Since the diseases spread through contaminated water or soil, try limiting contact with them. Since Kerala is recovering from floods, this may be difficult and puts you at increased risk.
2. If you must come into contact with flood water or mud, try wearing protective end-to-end clothing so that none of the contaminated water or mud come in contact with your body.
3. Ensure that you do not smoke, drink or eat anything while handling any animals. This is to prevent the bacteria from entering the bloodstream through your mouth.
4. Leptospirosis enters the human body through openings. If you have open cuts or wounds, get them treated immediately, and secure them with a waterproof bandage, so that it does not get infected.
5. Be mindful of the food and water you consume. Ensure that all water is boiled/suitably purified to kill bacteria. Also, try avoiding food that has come into contact with infected animals.
If you exhibit any of the symptoms mentioned above, visit a doctor immediately. Do note that many of the symptoms are similar to flu symptoms, so don’t ignore them.
The doctor can determine the presence of antibodies and the extent of ‘rat fever’ through a simple blood test. If you do have the disease, the doctor will most likely treat it using antibiotics, including penicillin and doxycycline.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)