Leptospirosis a Growing Threat

Northern Provincial Hospital, Santo.

The Leptospirosis disease transmitted from rodents is now a major growing threat in SANMA province, claiming 4 lives with 60 infected patients currently seeking treatment.

Globally, there are 23 Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), however in Santo there are only two cases of NTD – Leptospirosis and Dengue fever.

Department of Livestock Officer Kaltuk Kalomor has spent 34-years dealing with Zoonotic diseases – viruses transmitted from animals to humans.

Part of his responsibility is to spread the message of clean hygiene as the best prevention measure against Leptospirosis.

“Our aim is to change mindsets and let people know that prevention is always better than cure,” he said

“Leptospirosis also known as Rat fever is a bacterial disease scientifically called the genus leptospira which are spread from rats to animals or humans.

“The bacteria can only be transmitted if hosts come into contact with infected urine from rats or other bodily fluids such as saliva, contaminated water supply, muddy water or food.

“Once the leptospira has inhabited a host, it can survive for weeks to months.”

Officer Kalomor said the symptoms of the fatal disease is high fever, jaundice (yellow skin pigment), sore throat, vomiting, red eyes, diarrhea, rash, migraine, and severe muscle aches in the calves and back.

More severe signs include bleeding in the lungs, kidney failure and meningitis – brain inflammation.

“During the first phase (septicemic phase), it takes 5-14 days to show symptoms.

“The second phase (immune phase) occurs in most cases where the symptoms return a few days later.

“Overall the period between a person who is exposure to the bacteria and becoming sick is 2 days – 4 weeks. Illness begins abruptly with fever and other symptoms.”

Nonetheless, the Ministry of Health has warned that “many of these symptoms can be mistaken for other diseases.

“In addition, some may have no symptoms at all.

“If you experience any of these symptoms it is crucial that you report immediately to the hospital before it is too late.”

The Officer explained the disease has become a major threat after TC Harold has swept into the area and cleared all bushes which in turn, has forcefully chased rodents living in the scrubs to seek shelter in nearby settlements.

“Rats carry all diseases; which makes them the perfect host for Leptospirosis.

“Food left uncovered inside a kitchen is the perfect bait for rats, they would eat them when you are fast asleep and urinate and poop on the table or plates.

“You can see a rat’s poop but not its urine, which makes it more impossible to assume your food and kitchen utensils are safe to use.”

Mr Kalomor said there are two species of rats in Santo and both are eligible carriers of the Leptospirosis disease.

“Once I had to operate 11 rats to check if they are infected, during my examination, only 3 out of 11 rats were infected with Leptospirosis, but I need more tests before I can conclude any possible theories.”

He said transmission is high during wet seasons, “especially rainy days where there are muddy pools of water, which can transport the bacteria to its new host, this is why it is important to wear proper footwear and to stop children from playing outside in the rain”.

He added there are two types of transmission: Direct transmission – from rats to humans or to animals, or Indirect transmission – from rats to animals to humans.

Both wild and domestic animals: chickens, cows, pigs and dogs can spread the disease.

Good news for cat lovers though, the disease cannot infect or be transmitted by cats, Mr Kalomor said “the felines have the most sensitive sense of smell, they can tell if a rat is infected, which explains why they often play with their food and why chose to eat only the rat’s head because they know the blood is infected.”

As a fact, the bacteria can also survive in moist conditions outside the host for many days or even weeks.

Nonetheless, they can be eliminated with detergents, disinfectants and a high heat exposure to 50 ͦc for 5 minutes.

“To ensure your vegetables are not infected, they should be soaked in saltwater for 45 minutes to disinfect the living bacteria, people can also use rock salt and hot water to neutralize any infection.

“But the best efforts to prevent the disease include practicing clean hygiene when working with potentially infected animals, washing after contact and reducing rodents in areas where people live and work.”

According to the ‘WHO Recommended Standards and Strategies for Surveillance, Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases,’ early treatment is done with antibiotics.

The document stated that severe cases are usually treated with high doses of IV benzylpenicillin (30 mg/kg up to 1.2 g IV 6-hourly for 5-7 days).

“Less severe cases are treated orally with antibiotics such as doxycycline (2 mg/kg up to 100 mg 12-hourly for 5-7 days), tetracycline, ampicillin or amoxicillin.”

Preventive measures include: Identifying and controlling the source of infection (e.g. open sewers, contaminated wells) and adding control measures in small, defined animal populations (dogs, certified cattle herds) nonetheless, rodent control is crucial.

To interrupt transmission from infected environments, people are encouraged to wear protective clothes and equipment, disinfect contaminated surfaces such as tables and floors and marking areas with increased risk exposure (warning signs).

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