Health alert intensifies as rat fever escalates

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

With an alarming increase of leptospirosis (rat fever) reported in the country health authorities warn that inappropriate garbage disposal, contaminated environment and exposure of people with unattended wounds and cuts to open areas may escalate the already increasing number of infected cases.

In comparison to 2007 when 2,198 cases were reported, in 2008, up to date 150 deaths and 4,455 infected cases were reported, said Dr. Devika Mendis of the Health Ministry Epidemiology Unit.

She said that although it was the belief that only rat urine carries the infection, domestic animals such as dogs and cats and also livestock too could carry the infection and therefore such animals should be vaccinated.

“If these animals pass urine into water in which people have a bath, or a cut or wound is exposed to such water, such people could be infected with this disease,” she said. Meanwhile Gampaha, Kurunegala, Colombo, Matale and Kalutara are declared as high risk areas in the country.

She also said that persons in urban areas should observe proper garbage disposal to control the rat population.

She said that as a result of increased agricultural activities and with more people taking to cultivation, exposure to the outdoors has increased.

“In Gampaha district, Divulapitiya and Mirigama areas where there is paddy cultivation on a large scale, were the most affected, therefore we believe that the agricultural areas are prone to the
disease,” she said.

In addition, workers in industries which involve outside activity and children who play in paddy fields during school vacation were reported to be victims of leptospirosis,.

Symptoms of the infection are high fever, severe muscle pain, red sore eyes, severe headache and in some instances vomiting and diarrhoea. Delayed treatment would cause low urine output which is a significant sign of renal failure.

The public is also requested to avoid stepping into stagnant water, to cover wounds and cuts if travelling in exposed areas and to go for immediate treatment at the first signs of rat fever.

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