With a total of three deaths and 44 cases of leptospirosis recorded in 2011, the Ministry of Health is urging Barbadians to protect themselves against the disease.
According to Senior Medical Officer of Health – North, Dr. Karen Springer, there were six recorded cases in the first half of the year and that number tripled for the last six months of 2011.
Dr. Springer explained that the disease, which carries flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, nausea and vomiting, eye inflammation and muscle aches, could be contracted through contact with water, damp soil or vegetation contaminated with the urine of infected animals.?? "Bacteria can enter the body through broken skin and can also enter the body if the person swallows contaminated food or water," she added.
The health practitioner also cautioned that while rodents were the main carriers of leptospirosis in Barbados, the disease could also be transmitted by other animals which carry the leptospirosis organism, including pigs, horses, cattle and dogs.
In order to protect persons against exposure to the disease she gave the following advice: "Wear fully covered shoes, gloves, long sleeved shirts and face masks when handling animals and when in contact with animal fluids or secretions or contaminated soil.?? All cuts and abrasions should be covered with waterproof dressings.?? Hands should be washed and individuals should shower after contact with potentially contaminated soils, fluids, animals or carcasses.
"Pest control through the process of baiting or traps should be conducted [as well as the] cleaning of workplaces or homes to minimise the infestation of potential vectors.?? Build-up of vegetation should also be minimised to discourage illegal dumping and the subsequent harbouring of rodents."
The Vector Control Unit also plays a role in eradicating the pests which carry the deadly leptospirosis disease.?? According to Senior Environmental Health Officer at the Unit, Maurice Gaskin, his department has implemented a number of initiatives aimed at empowering and educating various sections of Barbadian society.
One such venture is the distribution of bait to the general public.?? "We have a number of distribution centres, one at Jemmotts Lane and at [the] seven polyclinics where we distribute rodent bait to the general public…we give each person two packs of bait.?? What we also do is collect the names and addresses of those persons accessing this bait for further investigations," he clarified.
Mr. Gaskin also noted that the Vector Control Unit had trained over 11,000 persons during the past two years in occupations considered vulnerable to exposure to the disease.?? These include personnel from the Royal Barbados Police Force, Sanitation Service Authority, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, School Meals Department Workers and Horticulturalists.?? Visits were also made to schools in an effort to educate students and teachers on ways to avoid contact with the bacteria, as well as to farmers and bakeries, who were given advice on baiting.
Persons who own vacant lots are also targeted by the Unit as these unused areas tend to be overrun with vegetation and encourage the presence of rats, which is the main carrier of leptospirosis in Barbados.?? "What happens is that the rattus norvegicus – the brown rat, tends to burrow, so where there is high vegetation it burrows.?? It produces eight to 12 young ones in a litter and these reach maturity in about three months.?? So, you will find that one pair of rodents would produce about 84 young ones in a given year," Mr. Gaskin explained.
One of the methods now available to members of the public to assist in the eradication of rodents is the use of bait stations, which can now be bought from the Environmental Sanitation Unit located in Black Rock, St. Michael, for BDS $50.
While these are very effective in trapping rodents, the Senior Environmental Officer cautioned persons using this piece of equipment to operate it carefully as incorrect handling could result in contracting leptospirosis or handle virus disease, the latter of which is the inhalation of rodent urine.
"To get rid of dead rodents wear a disposable mask…because the urine could be in the dust particles. Instead of sweeping we encourage persons to sprinkle with a bleach solution and then mop…Persons could also wear gloves which should also be disposed of properly," he further advised.??
Persons who suspect they have contracted leptospirosis should see a physician immediately as severe cases of the illness could cause liver damage, jaundice, kidney failure and internal bleeding.