Health professionals are apprehensive of shortage of Doxycycline tablets as the flood-hit Kerala is battling an outbreak of leptospirosis, known in the common man’s lingo as rat-fever. After the floods that killed 483 lives and affected over 50 lakh people, health professionals had been on the look out for cases of water-borne diseases when leptospirosis (also known as Weil’s disease) killed as many as 41 people since last 40 days.
Leptospirosis is usually spread through rat urine, possibly interspersed in the muddy puddles. It can enter the human body through small cuts in the skin or through the eyes, nose or mouth. Caused by the leptospiro bacteria, the deadly fever is too often underestimated, in the early stages.
“Although we are fully geared with medicines to treat water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea, hepatitis and leptospirosis, the imperative to issue preventive Doxycycline tablets for Kozhikode city, which was marked as a hot-spot of the disease, might cause the stocks to diminish fast,” said Dr RS Gopakumar, health officer, Kozhikode Corporation.
“So far, only 40,000 individuals have been covered through the preventive tablets,” he said.
Kozhikode city alone has a population of 20.3 lakh, meaning that the stocks need to be quickly replenished. Social media appeals, meanwhile, has got consignments of about 1 lakh tablets despatched from Mangalore.
Not only the families who were forced to spend days in damp shelters amidst muddied water-bodies, but also thousands of people engaged in rescue operations are also exposed to leptospirosis. While the official death toll from confirmed cases of rat fever in Kerala is 41, 20 more people have been detected to be infected with the bacteria and 12 cases have been confirmed in Thiruvananthapuram. Two labourers, a man and a woman, who volunteered in the clean-up drive, were among the fever casualties. A red alert for the symptoms has been issued in the entire state.
“The outbreak was no surprise and so hospitals are equipped to face the crisis,” said Dr Saritha R, director, Kerala health services. Malaria and dengue fever cases too have been reported. The floodwater has drained away in most places except Kuttanad. Less than 10,000 people are currently staying in the relief camps, which were earlier populated by as many as 10.4 lakh people.
“We had been urging the volunteers to take active precautions like preventive tablets though this was not heeded enough,” said state health minister KK Shylaja.
As the scale of the disease seems going up, the health authorities in Kozhikode have decided to undertake household visits to ensure effective use of preventive tablets. The city corporation is readying to distribute 200 mg tablets of Doxycycline on a seven-week course, with two tablets to be consumed one a week.