Don't test the rain waters

Waterborne diseases account for 3.6 per cent of the global burden of diseases annually.

Due to the recent flooding of several Indian cities and heavy rains in many other parts of the country, there is a major risk of contracting waterborne diseases. These are mainly caused by pathogenic micro-organisms that are commonly transmitted through contaminated fresh water. Infections tend to occur while drinking the infected water and consuming food cooked in it. One of the most widely-occurring illnesses is the waterborne diarrheal disease.

In fact, waterborne diseases account for 3.6 per cent of the global burden of diseases and cause about 1.5 million human deaths annually. Hence, heavy-duty water-logging in major cities of India seen during the monsoons every year raises the concern for the emergence of these diseases. Dr J. Anish Anand, consultant, internal medicine, Apollo Hospitals, answers some basic questions about these diseases and how to prevent and cure them.

What are the waterborne diseases that people suffer from once the flood waters recede?
The waterborne diseases are sporadic cholera, dysentery, typhoid, malaria, chikungunya, dengue, flu and leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is caused by leptospira bacteria present in the urine and faecal matter of animals like rats, dogs and cattle. When people wade through flooded streets, there is a high possibility of being infected with the waterborne bacteria. Those with wounds or cracked skin are particularly susceptible to the disease.

Are the water borne diseases debilitating?
Yes, waterborne diseases contracted after flooding are very debilitating. In the case of sporadic cholera, hospital admission is required and constant rehydration of the body is a must.

Similarly, those who suffer from malaria, chikungunya and dengue have to come to the hospital early for proper medical management. Late admissions often lead to complications and in a few cases they even prove to be fatal.

What are the preventive measures that people must take and for how long?
To prevent mosquitoes from breeding, water should not be allowed to stagnate; people should consume boiled or packaged water to prevent waterborne diseases. Spraying of insecticides and pesticides is important at points where the water stagnates.

Are people in low-lying areas with muck and silt outside their homes at a risk? What are the precautions they must take?
Muck and silt, which are found inside homes as well, have to be cleaned properly as they increase the risk of infections. Apart from being cleaned properly, there is also a need to use disinfectants if the silt is from the gutters. There are various pathogens and micro-organisms in this silt. So, it is important to clean the area and allow it to dry. People must wash their hands regularly when they touch any surface in these areas as it can contain bacteria and viruses. Hand-washing must be done regularly.

For people who wade in knee-deep waters or walk for hours in water, what are the symptoms to be alert to?
They should see whether they are feeling feverish, have rashes, an upset stomach or any other symptoms of illness.

Tips on how to deal with monsoon woes

  • As a precautionary measure, T Doxycycline (100 mg) may be taken twice a day immediately after coming in contact with contaminated water. It’s also important to visit a doctor to ascertain that you aren’t infected.
  • Drain stagnant water which aids breeding of mosquitoes whenever possible. Alert the government authorities about the same.
  • Wear full-sleeved clothes to decrease the possibility of mosquito bites.
  • Use mosquito repellents that are safe for children and pregnant women. Prioritise the use of mosquito nets.
  • Staying in a cool room may help, considering that mosquitoes prefer warm environs.
  • Cover skin lesions with waterproof bandages while navigating through flooded streets to prevent infection by bacteria and other pathogens.
  • Shower after exposure to contaminated surfaces, soil or water; clean wounds frequently.
  • Disinfect contaminated areas such as stables and abattoirs whenever possible.
  • Drink water of certified purity, and ensure that your water purifiers are serviced regularly.
  • Avoid wading or swimming in potentially contaminated water bodies (pools, ponds or rivers).
  • If your fever persists for more than five days, consult a doctor immediately.
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