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Rising dengue fever, leptospirosis in St Lucia

Thursday, June 23, 2011 | 2:55 PM    

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CASTRIES, St Lucia – Public health officials have warned of “disturbing” levels of dengue fever and leptospirosis cases on the island.

The warning came as the health department launched a public education and clean-up campaign to rid the island of disease-carrying mosquitos and rats.

Public health officials attributed the exceptionally high number of infections to the rainy weather in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas in 2010, they told journalists yesterday.

Last month, there were over 40 recorded cases of dengue fever, which is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

“During the past few weeks we have noted levels of infection that are substantially higher for this time of the year. The rainy season has only just begun and the levels we see now are normally recorded way into the rainy season,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr Merlin Frederick.

So so far this year there were 169 reported cases of dengue fever as compared to 95 cases in 2010 and only 18 in 2009, she said.

The campaign is to target eight large communities. The health department planned to carry out insecticide fogging, community clean-ups, education campaigns and house-to-house inspections.

“We desperately need the public’s input, we need persons to change their behaviour and attitude to habits that encourage the breeding of mosquitoes and the disposal of food and rubbish which promotes the rat infestation,” Dr Frederick told journalists.

“We have been engaged in continuous assessments and treatments which will be intensified, and we recommend that householders adopt measures such as using mosquito nets, clearing of breeding sites and the use of insect repellents,” she added.

If left untreated, dengue fever, a viral infection, can led to death, particularly if the sufferer does not get to the hospital in time. Its symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle pains and skin rash. A life-threatening form of the disease, dengue hemorrhagic fever, can lead to shock and organ failure.

The chief medical officer warned people suffering with a “suspicious” fever to avoid taking painkillers containing ibuprofen or aspirin as these drugs combined with dengue could cause internal bleeding.

Although there is no treatment or vaccine for the dengue fever anyone with a high fever should seek immediate medical attention, Dr Frederick said.

Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria which are passed from the urine of infected animals to humans. Rats have been identified as a prime carrier of the disease which is more contagious in moist conditions. Some cases can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

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