Kozhikode: A string of deadly diseases haunt a district touted to be the most clean in Kerala - this could well be the gist of the Kozhikode story now. As the recent leptospirosis (rat fever) outbreak claimed more lives in the district after the August floods, public hygiene, stray dog menace, waste management, and vector control are in focus once again.
The authorities have been unable to conclusively pinpoint the causative factors. Experts but say it is not only the flood but also the continuous rain and contamination of soil that caused the diseases.
Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP) executive committee member and its former president KP Aravindan told Onmanorama that more than the flood, heavy rain could have triggered the outbreak and spread of leptospirosis. “When there is a large water gush, bacteria get diluted and washed away. On the contrary, post rains, when the soil is damp and when there is water stagnation, animal or rodent excreta and urine get mixed with water. This year, Kozhikode experienced more rain compared to the past few years. Though flooding was less, it is one district that received maximum amount of rain," he said.
“Leptospira bacteria can survive for weeks in damp soil, especially when the earth is alkaline. The chance of epidemic recurrence is high in such areas. The real period of danger is the days after continuous rain. So, it is best to identify such most-affected, low-lying areas and take immediate action to avoid waterlogging. Closed remaining closed too hold the threat of disease spread," he said.
"Sewage workers, butchers, farmers, and veterinary health officials are high risk vocations. Contact with contaminated water is the most prevalent cause of spread. Those who walk barefooted are more prone to contracting the disease," Aravindan said. The best way to prevent the disease is to wear shoes, he added.
“Another study in the state indicates that 71 per cent of dogs in the state are leptospira infected. This points to the large stray dog population in the state," Aravindan said.
Statistics from the Directorate of Health Services indicate that the incidence of leptospirosis has always been high in Kozhikode. Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode, additional professor T Jayakrishnan said the most number of leptospirosis cases were reported from the district.
“The outbreak is usually post monsoon or in between the rains. This year, it rained continuously from the end of June to the last week of August. While checking the affected regions, we see a pattern of frequent outbreak in the same areas. Rats migrate during floods. Population, temperature and soil are important factors in making an area prone to such diseases. People are a bit hesitant to take preventive medicines," he said.
Kozhikode was always a hot spot in terms of leptospirosis, said RL Saritha, the Director of Health Services. “Even the cattle rearers are at risk. Rat menace can be reduced considerably by keeping places clean. Cleaning up individual houses also play a crucial role," Dr Saritha, who was district medical officer, Kozhikode, said.