Thousands of citizens came forward to help with rescue and relief efforts during the worst floods in a century in Kerala. With flood waters having slowly receded, scores continue to do their bit to help in rebuilding efforts. The fear of an epidemic outbreak didn’t stop many like Suresh, a daily wage labourer and Kumari, a member of the state Kudumbashree Mission from lending a helping hand.
On Sunday, the two volunteers, who had taken part in the cleaning drive to help flood-affected families return to their homes, succumbed to suspected rat fever. Kumari belongs to Koovappady near Perumbavoor in Ernakulam, while Suresh of Kodaly near Chalakudy in Thrissur, was a bachelor who plucked areca nut for a living.
Thirty-six-year-old Suresh took part in the cleaning drive for six days. He had been first admitted at a hospital in Iringalakkuda. Kizhakke Kodali ward number Sheeba Varghese told TNM that Suresh had told the nursing staff of a hospital in Iringalakuda that he had been into cleaning work in the Chalakkudy region for six days. “He had also told them that he had gone for the drive in a vehicle in which other volunteers also went for the cleaning drive. We will enquire about the vehicle,” said Sheeba.
He was a bachelor and didn’t maintain close relationship with anyone. “Hence it is from the nursing staff we, the local people, came to know that he was engaged in the cleaning drive,” the ward member says. Suresh died at the Government Medical College Hospital, Thrissur.
Office of the District Medical Officer Thrissur said that Suresh’s death was due to suspected case of rat fever. “His is a suspected case of rat fever. The confirmation will come today (Monday) evening only,” the office said.
Sheeba said, “We never heard that he had done any evil to anyone. He never got into any kind of trouble, he was a calm person, very down to earth. His relationship was more close with his friends, with whom he used to go to pluck areca nut. For others Suresh was a silent person."
48-year old Kumari is a worker of the State Kudumbashree Mission, which is an empowerment programme for women of poor families. She is a native of Aiymuri, Perumbavoor in Ernakulam.
“Kumari's death is a probable case of rat fever," said Ernakulam district medical officer NK Kuttappan.
Kumari had been to Nedumbassery for four days to clean the house of her brother which was flooded. “After a couple of days, she got fever. First, she was admitted in a hospital in Perumbavoor. But as the fever didn’t subsidise, she had been shifted to a private hospital in Kochi where she died,” Koovappady Community Development Society chairperson of Kudumbashree, Shailaja Manoj said.
Her death, Shailaja said, comes three weeks after she repaid the loan she took from Kudumbashree. "She took a loan for her son’s studies. After repaying the loan, she said that her son had got a part time job and hence she may not need to take loans anymore. When I went to her home yesterday (Sunday) I saw her son crying, lying on a mat. Her brothers were saying that, they all forced her to go to hospital when she got fever, but she resisted. She kept on saying that she had no problem at all," Shailaja said.
Three more deaths from rat fever were reported over the weekend in the state. With this the death toll of confirmed cases of the fever since August 1 has risen to 39.
The Health Department began issuing warnings to those who had been exposed to flood waters, including volunteers who pitched in for post-flood relief efforts to take active precautions, but according to Additional Chief Secretary Rajeev Sadanand many have not done so and is stressing for people to take the doxycycline medication as advised and to visit a hospital if someone does present with any symptoms of leptospirosis.
As the state is recovering from the disastrous floods, officials were prepared for an outbreak, though they have stated that this is one of the worst of its kind.