As the rains and flood slowly begin to recede in parts of Karnataka and Kerala, health officials are now faced with the task of ensuring that diseases commonly seen following a deluge are contained.
“Our immediate concerns are with regards to waterborne diseases. Following such a natural disaster, it is vital that people have access to safe drinking water,” explains Shivamogga District Health Officer Dr Kiran.
Health officials are taking precautions against these waterborne infections.
“Some of the most commonly seen diseases are shigella, gastroenteritis, typhoid and dysentery. To avoid these, we ask people to only consume boiled water. They can also chlorinate their water sources to reduce the chance of infection from these sources,” adds the doctor.
Waterborne diseases such as the ones mentioned above by Dr Kiran can manifest as a stomach bug causing diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and can potentially be fatal if not treated. In addition to boiling and chlorinating water sources as a precaution, halogen tablets can also be used to purify drinking water.
Dr Kiran also says that it is important to remove any solid waste which may have accumulated in and around the house, and urges people to use bleaching powder and phenyl to clean the premises as well.
Elsewhere in Kerala’s Wayanad district, Dr Renuka R, the District Medical Officer (DMO) is busy ensuring that the relief camps set up in the district are running efficiently.
“There are almost 200 relief camps in Wayanad alone with about 32,000 people. We are working with several medical personnel and volunteers to tend to their needs. Now that the rains are just receding, we will start seeing more people presenting with infections; right now, our first priority remains in ensuring that people have safe drinking water sources,” she says.
While this is the immediate focus, after the first week, officials are concerned about other diseases such as vector borne ones. The most common are dengue, chikungunya, and other mosquito-borne diseases.
“Stagnant water will cause breeding of mosquitoes and this in turn will lead to an increased risk of developing any of the mosquito-borne diseases,” says Dr Renuka. She notes that it is vital to clear any stagnant water and to take basic precautions against mosquito bites via using repellants and coils.
The biggest health concerns after this are other diseases such as leptospirosis (rat fever), which was prominent following the floods which plagued Kerala last year. This infection is caused by the bacteria Leptospira and is transmitted to humans via direct contact with body fluids (usually urine) of an infected animal. The symptoms people commonly present with are fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, muscle pain, and excessive tiredness.
“People should never venture into waterlogged areas as they might get exposed to leptospirosis. Infected animals shed the bacteria through urine and there is a high chance that this can come in contact with the water, thereby contaminating it. People who come in contact with this water are at risk from the infection,” says Dr Kiran.