The Epidemiology Unit said there was a considerable increase in leptospyrosis (rat fever) cases this year. The unit reported 3,960 cases from twelve districts compared to 2,195 cases reported in 2007. Deputy Director General (Public Health) Dr. Sarath Mahipala warned there was an outbreak of the epidemic and that 118 deaths from sixteen hospitals in the country had been reported due to the disease.
`The problem we face is that most patients seek medical help from the private sector. When they feel that the medication they are taking is not helpful they come to government hospitals. It s too late by then and most patients die within 24 hours,` he said.
All government hospitals are equipped to handle Leptospyrosis cases that come to them. She said that antibiotics were given to patients with Leptospyrosis. Antibiotics like doxycycline are administered as two tablets within two weeks. However this does not work as an immunisation against the disease it merely controls it, he said.
He said at a press conference at the Epidemiology Unit in Colombo that the disease had spread in Gampaha, Kegalle, and Matale. It has spread in large proportions due to weather conditions. The environmental changes that have been taking place during this year have largely led to the outbreak. The rains and floods throughout the year have aided the bacterium which causes leptospirosis to spread. The carriers of the disease are rodents. Their urine contains spirochaetes which affect humans and a wide range of other animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
The infection, is commonly transmitted by allowing water that has been contaminated by animal urine to coming in contact with cuts and wounds the skin and eyes. The bacterium has an incubation period of one to two weeks.
Acting Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Paba Palihawadena said the risk was high for those who were involved in farming, gem mining and sewage and irrigation workers as they are constantly in contact with water or soil which could be contaminated.
People participating in outdoor sporting activities can also come into contact with contaminated water or soil, she said.
Speaking of symptoms Dr. Palihawadena said leptospyrosis began two to 25 days after direct exposure to the urine or tissue of an infected rodent. The symptoms of the disease are nonspecific flu like symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, eye pain (especially with bright lights), followed by chills and fever. Watering and redness of the eyes occurs and symptoms seem to improve by the fifth to ninth day. However after a few days of feeling well the initial symptoms recur with fever and aching with stiffness of the neck.
The Epidemiology Unit in collaboration with the Health Ministry is carrying out awareness programs for farmers, other small farming and irrigation societies. Replying to a question Palihawadena said the danger of attempting to control the rodent is the danger of using rodenticides. `However, we have planned out a pilot project for the near future.`