Diarrhoea outbreak at DLF flat: Health dept identifies 441 cases; multiple water sources under scanner

Over 800 people reportedly affected from the diseases in DLF flat. Photo: special Arrangement

Kochi: As many as 441 residents of a DLF apartment complex at Kakkanad here have fallen ill in two weeks after a diarrhoea outbreak there. The health department revealed the figures after it was pressed into action on Tuesday following intervention by Health Minister Veena George who was alerted about the grave situation by some residents of the apartment complex.

The health department has identified 102 active cases with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea and fever while five have been admitted to different hospitals.

The department conducted an active case search and has sent water samples for tests. The preliminary assessment is that water contamination may have caused the massive food poisoning. Drinking water for the flats is sourced from the Kerala Water Authority (KWA), borewell and open well on the premises, a rain water harvesting facility and tanker lorries operated by private agencies. The water from the multiple sources are stored in a centralised water treatment plant and the treated water is pumped into overhead tanks in each tower. 

The health department on Tuesday collected samples from the overhead tanks and sent them to labs for bacteriological/chemical analysis. A sample collected from the rain water sump on the apartment premises on May 25 was tested and it was found that coliforms and E coli bacteria did not conform to the permissible limit. 

The DLF apartment complex which contains around 1,268 flat units housing around 6,000 residents witnessed hectic activity by the health department on Tuesday after the purportedly under-reported health crisis caught the minister' attention.

Medical teams headed by a group from the District medical Office visited the residential complex in the morning following a rapid response team meeting was conducted online. The health department officials and the residents' representatives held a meeting chaired by the Thrikkakara municipal chairman and took stock of the situation.

The health department has distributed ORS/Zinc supplementation to the residents and instructed them to use only boiled water even if it is treated at an RO plant.

"The flat residents have been instructed to ensure that super chlorination of the water happens everyday. It has also been decided to deploy a medical team from the Ernakulam General Hospital at the flat complex for clinical care. The team has detected disease symptoms in 102 people," Dr Sakkeena K, district medical officer, said.

Serum/stool/swab samples of active cases will be sent for bactereological/virological analysis. Steps have been initiated to conduct a detailed analysis of the water sources in the blocks where most cases have been reported. The details of the tankers which bring water to the complex will also be examined.

Canal diversion a cause?
As the news of the health crisis broke, residents of Darshan Nagar, a nearby residential area, came out alleging that the diversion of a canal for the construction of the buildings has caused the disease outbreak. They argued that the natural outflow of the canal was blocked for constructing the DLF buildings, leaving their houses prone to flash floods during rainy seasons. The area had witnessed heavy flooding during the pre-monsoon rains in May.

"The water storage facility of the DLF complex is situated below the ground level of our residential area. We have every reason to believe that when our area got submerged, contaminated water must have entered their treatment plant, polluting the drinking water," George Thomas, a lawyer who has been leading a legal fight with the builder major, told Onmanorama.

The residents association is of the view that it could not be ascertained if the disease broke out from contaminated water. "We have cut all the water sources off, be it KWA or rain water or wells. We are taking water from tanker lorries only. As per the instructions of the health department, we are chlorinating the water which have been doing anyway. We have a full-fledged water treatment system which is used for water from all sources," S Madhusoodanan, president of the residents association, told Onmanorama. 

He said cases have been reported on and off across the city and infection might have caused by food from outside. 

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