Risk of rat fever on the riseView(s):
- Try not to catch it, but if you have fever think of mee una
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
Be aware and beware – for, with the rains come the risk of a disease spread by a bacterium, in addition to several viral diseases in circulation these days.
Rat fever (mee una) or leptospirosis was the alert delivered succinctly and with clarity by a powerful panel at the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) recently.
The important message was: Try to prevent catching rat fever. But if you do get a high fever, think rat fever, along with other diseases such as dengue, influenza and COVID-19.
This disease is mainly spread by rats whose urine infected with the leptospira bacterium contaminates paddy fields, diya-kadithi, irrigation canals and drains, said Dr. Thushani Dabrera of the Epidemiology Unit, explaining that if anyone who has even a small cut or wound on the legs or even cracked heels comes into contact with this water, he/she can get infected.
She said that another way of infection could be if a person washes his/her mouth or face with such contaminated water, letting the bacterium enter his/her body through the eyes or the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose.
Called by many names, mee una, wel una or pathal una, even though the disease is prevalent throughout the year, it peaks during March-May and September-December in tandem with the rains and the cultivation seasons of Yala and Maha respectively.
The current high-risk areas are the Southern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces.
Those at risk of contracting rat fever include:
- Agricultural workers in wel or kumburu
- Those working in mines (pathal)
- Those who tend to keera or kohila kotu
- Those who may be catching fish in small waterways
- Those who work in their
- Those using playgrounds
- Those who may face a flood or a landslide
Dr. Dabrera urged those engaging in paddy farming to take prophylactic (preventive) medicine to ward off rat fever and if they do get high fever to seek medical treatment as it is curable.
Prof. Panduka Karunanayake, Professor in Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, said the symptoms of rat fever include high fever, unbearable body and muscle aches and pains, headache, loss of appetite, vomiting and reddish or yellowish eyes.
“It is an infection which hits quickly and develops speedily and it is vital to seek medical help as, otherwise, it can affect the kidneys, the brain and the lungs,” he cautioned.
He too reiterated that rat fever can be prevented but if someone catches rat fever it can be cured and complications prevented if the patient seeks medical treatment soon.
“Certain antibiotics are given as preventive medicine to stop a person getting infected and other types of antibiotics are given as treatment once a person gets the infection,” he added.
Consultant Microbiologist Dr. Lilani Karunanayake of the Medical Research Institute (MRI) said that the MRI has a National Reference Laboratory for leptospirosis where the testing for rat fever is carried out.
“Within the first week of infection, blood and urine samples would be subjected to an rt-PCR (realtime Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. After about five days or a week, an acute sample of blood would be tested for antibodies by the Microscopic Agglutination Test (MAT). If the antibody level is either negative or low in this sample, a second sample should be sent another week later to confirm or dismiss rat fever,” she said.
She added that there is a counter at the MRI manned by a medical laboratory technician (MLT) which accepts samples for testing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
|How to prevent rat fever? |
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