THE LEPTOSPIROSIS THREAT
During the Great Floods of 2005, it was reported that over thirty persons died due to suspected leptospirosis, a bacterial infection whose incidence is heightened during flooding.
We were however never told just how many of these deaths were conclusively found to have been caused by leptospirosis.
At the time, there was only a rapid testing which could have been done locally for this disease. In order to make a final and conclusive determination, samples had to be sent overseas for confirmation of the infection. Many of these samples were sent but we were never told just how many of the persons who were suspected to have contracted “lepto” were confirmed to have had the disease.
What was disturbing then, as it no doubt is now, is that from everything that I have read about lepto, the mortality rates are not supposed to be high. Persons should not be dying from lepto and therefore it is important that those persons displaying the symptoms of the disease go for treatment early rather than rely on home-made remedies and self-treatment as so many Guyanese like to do.
Guyanese have a proclivity for treating themselves with all manner of bushes and herbs for conditions for which they should see a doctor. We have to discourage this practice of persons treating themselves.
Public health care in Guyana is free. The vast majority of Guyanese have access to health facilities. What harm can there be in contacting a doctor or Medex?
It is equally important, however, that when persons seek treatment that a proper diagnosis is done so that we do not have many cases of persons being treated as suspected lepto cases when in fact they are suffering from other underlying conditions.
A few days ago, one of the persons suspected to have been suffering from lepto died. Her post mortem results however showed that she died from complications due to high blood pressure and high blood sugar and not from lepto. It could well be that she did have the infection, but such a determination would have to await the test results from overseas.
It is shocking that after the experience of 2005, we still have not, three years after, developed the local capability to test for lepto. There is only a rapid test which is done but for final confirmation, samples have to be sent overseas.
Last year, the American government donated a laboratory to the government of Guyana. It is located within the compound of the Georgetown Public Hospital, but unfortunately it would seem as if there is no capability to test for leptospirosis.
This will present problems for local medical practitioners who will have to be guided by the rapid test. It could result in a large number of persons being observed for lepto when in fact they do not have this infection.
In yesterday’s newspaper we are told that of the thirty-eight suspected cases of lepto, only ten have been confirmed as having the disease.
We are also faced with a situation where persons who are not resident or have not been in flooded areas are coming down with symptoms of the disease. In one case, which was reported in yesterday’s edition of this newspaper, a father from Georgetown died from suspected lepto. His family is perplexed, because they are baffled as to how he could have contracted lepto.
While there are persons from flood-affected areas who are also showing signs of the disease, we see on television coverage of persons openly moving around in flooded areas where there are pit latrines and animal pens; we see footage of children swimming in this nasty water and yet there have not been many reports of lepto in these areas.
In such a situation, we therefore have to exercise caution. The health authorities have warned us about the dangers involved and they have advised us about the precautions which need to be taken. We must all take responsibility for our lives and exercise the necessary precautions so as to avoid infection.
We must not assume that because we live in an area which was not flooded that we cannot come down with the infection. We may be wrong.
We must equally be aware that lepto can be spread by infected rodents and therefore even if an area is not flooded, there may be rats around because of garbage being poorly disposed of. So we have to ensure that we take extra care in properly disposing of our litter and try our best to keep our surroundings clean.