India’s flood-hit Kerala state faces shortages of ‘rat fever’ drug

Suspected cases of leptospirosis, a waterborne disease known locally as ‘rat fever’, has climbed to 800 since mid-August. (AFP)
Updated 05 September 2018
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India’s flood-hit Kerala state faces shortages of ‘rat fever’ drug

  • Confirmed deaths caused by leptospirosis so far total 12
  • Kozhikode corporation needs about 3 million tablets over the next two months, but currently has about 500,000 in stock

NEW DELHI: India’s flood-ravaged Kerala state is facing shortages of a drug that fights an infectious bacterial disease after the worst flooding in a century, forcing authorities to turn to other states to help ramp up supplies.
Suspected cases of leptospirosis, a waterborne disease known locally as ‘rat fever’, has climbed to 800 since mid-August, a health ministry spokesman said. Transmitted via the urine of infected animals, its symptoms include muscle pain and fever.
Confirmed deaths caused by leptospirosis so far total 12, while suspected deaths, pending full medical reports, number 41, the spokesman added.
The surge in cases comes after torrential rain beginning on Aug. 8 flooded almost the entire state, killing hundreds of people, destroying thousands of homes and causing at least 200 billion rupees ($2.81 billion) worth of damage.
The southern state’s Kozhikode district, one of the worst hit by rat fever, is staring at supply shortages as demand for the preventive drug shot up, following a few deaths locally.
Kozhikode corporation needs about 3 million tablets over the next two months, but currently has about 500,000 in stock, said R.S. Gopakumar, its health officer.
“We have got supplies, but the stocks have been depleting fast,” Gopakumar said, as more people are demanding the preventive tablets, which need to be taken once a week for a month.
“Supply shortages are being replenished. Of course the demand has shot up, but we are monitoring daily,” said Saritha R.L., the state’s director of health service.
The state government has sought help from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states, Gopakumar said.
The shortages are, however, not felt across the state.
Palakkad district, bordered on the east by Tamil Nadu state, has plenty of stocks, as its proximity to the neighboring state helped in faster transportation of medical supplies.
“We have excess supply,” said Reetha K.P, district medical officer of Palakkad.
Reetha does not expect a major jump in leptospirosis cases locally, and the district is focusing on vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever instead, as stagnant water breeds mosquitoes.
“We are busy with source reduction activities...,” she said, adding that, unlike leptospirosis, dengue had no preventive vaccine. “All we can do is to keep the intake of fluids high.” 


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 9 min 33 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”