Leptospirosis – Get rid of the rats

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) views with concern the recent outbreak of leptospirosis at a detention camp for illegal immigrants in Bukit Mertajam.

The disease is caused by the Leptospira spp. bacteria. Infection in humans is said to be rare and is usually through coming into contact with water, food or soil that has been contaminated by an infected animal’s urine. Rats and mice are common sources of infection.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include initial fever, headaches and chills and can follow with more serious effects such as meningitis, liver damage and renal failure, possibly ending in death.

Due to a wide range of symptoms the infection can possibly be wrongly diagnosed. This can mean that there may be more cases in the country than are actually detected.

Prevention of infections is through proper sanitation. Here in Penang, and also in other areas in the country, rats can be seen running freely around some open-air hawker centres and eateries. Drinking water and water used for washing dishes can become contaminated. Not much seems to be done to clean up and rid these places of rodents.

Crowded places such as detention camps, squatter settlements, prisons and other areas may also be sources of infection if cleanliness is not upheld.

People should play their part, but in many instances, either the “stick” is needed before things get moving, or else, certain segments of society need official assistance to improve their living or working environments.

CAP calls on the Health Ministry and the local councils to step up measures to ensure eateries and other places are not hotbeds for rodents and a source of serious infections like leptospirosis.

Letter to the Editor, 19 May, 2009