Receding floodwaters in Kerala generate ‘rat fever’ alert

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ther than destruction in lives, public and private property, the floods in Kerala has brought about a major health threat to Keralites. Health department officials are reporting an increase in the number of cases of leptospirosis, also called ‘rat fever.’

The Directorate of Health Services on August 28 issued a leptospirosis alert stating, “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.”

Dr Jayashree, Kozhikode District Medical Officer (DMO) told TNM, “We normally see a number of people presenting with leptospirosis around the monsoons, but this year following the floods, we expected to see more people coming in with symptoms of it.” She said that out of the people who’ve showed symptoms, 28 cases of leptospirosis have been confirmed in Kozhikode. The DMO added that 64 people are suspected to be suffering from leptospirosis, whose reports are awaited.

What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira.

TNM in their reports quotes Dr Keerthi, a Medical Officer from Chennai, as saying it is a zootonic infection, “A zoonotic infection is one which is spread to humans through animals. It is transmitted either through direct contact with body fluids, usually the urine, of an infected animal, or through contact with soil or water which has been contaminated with infected urine.”

If the infected urine contaminates water then, any person with a small cut or injury coming in contact with this water, may get infected as well.

Signs and symptoms can range from mild headaches, muscle pains, and fevers; to severe bleeding from the lungs or meningitis. Up to 13 different genetic types of Leptospira may cause disease in humans.

The fever is said to commonly spread through the urine of infected rats, hence it is commonly called rat fever.

Diagnosis: Leptospirosis is diagnosed by blood and urine tests. Those found to have contracted the infection are treated with doxycycline and supportive measures as deemed necessary.

Previous encounters with the disease

In 2017 alone, there were 1408 confirmed cases of leptospirosis reported in the state of Kerala, of which there were 80 deaths reported. In 2016, there were 1710 cases confirmed of which 35 succumbed to the infection.

How to avoid getting infected?

Dr Jayashree told TNM that the risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be reduced by avoiding wading into contaminated water.

If one has no other option other than to wave into the water, they must use protective clothing and shoes to reduce chances of contracting the infection.