After floods ravaged Kerala last month, the state is staring at a new problem — an outbreak of Leptospirosis or rat fever. The state government Sunday sounded an alert after the disease, which is transmitted from animals to humans, claimed 17 lives. The health department has asked people who came in contact with floodwaters to take preventive medicine as among those who died were involved in cleaning in flood-hit areas.
What is Leptospirosis?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria belonging to the genus Leptospira. The disease is detected in areas which have witnessed excessive rainfall or flooding. The bacteria can be transmitted to humans through cuts and abrasions of the skin, or through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth with water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The WHO claims that the disease can also be transmitted through drinking water or ingestion of food contaminated with urine of infected animals, often rats. However, human-to-human transmission occurs very rarely.
Who are at risk?
The risk of infection from Leptospirosis depends upon the amount of exposure. Some people have a high risk of exposure owing to the environment in which they live or work. Due to flooding, the area of exposure increases. According to the WHO, the main occupational groups at risk of Leptospirosis include agricultural workers, pet shop workers, veterinarians, sewer workers, abattoir workers, meat handlers, military personnel, survivors of natural disasters.
Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis?
The incubation period of Leptospirosis is between 5 to 14 days. According to the WHO, the symptoms can vary from a mild ‘flu-like’ illness to a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Leptospirosis is often difficult to diagnose clinically, as it can appear to be very similar to many other diseases such as dengue, typhoid and viral hepatitis. Although the disease is a self-limiting and often clinically inapparent illness in the majority of cases, 5-15 per cent of untreated cases can progress to a more severe and potentially fatal stage.
Health department officials said that in August, only 34 suspected leptospirosis cases and 229 confirmed ones were reported in the state. However, in the first two days of September, as many as 160 suspected cases and 73 confirmed cases were reported, indicating the gravity of the epidemic.