Residents are urged to be vigilant and avoid leptospirosis amid concerns in the region and prime conditions locally for its transmission.
Medical Officer of Health Dr Ronald Georges said Puerto Rico has a number of suspected cases, and the neighbouring US Virgin Islands has confirmed one case.
“Right now, our conditions are prime for the proliferation of rats. There is excess food availability and our food supply and houses are not secured, resulting in the rats moving closer and closer to our environment,” he said.
“I know that it is hard right now as many people have compromised homes. But, as much as possible, we want the community to secure their premises and food supply in the home to prevent the rats from getting in, thereby lowering your chance of coming in contact with the disease.”
The bacteria that cause leptospirosis are spread through the urine of infected rats, which can get into water or soil, or can be deposited on food containers.
According to Dr Georges, persons can become infected through contact with urine or other body fluids, except saliva from infected rodents.
They can also get leptospirosis through contact with water, soil, or food contaminated with the urine of the infected rodents.
The bacteria can enter the body through skin or mucous membranes – eyes, nose, or mouth, especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch. Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection.
“To avoid coming in contact with the virus, the community is urged to protect all food and drinking water against contamination. Fresh vegetables and fruit should be washed in clean water and then cooked or peeled. All drinking water should be boiled unless it is known to be absolutely safe,” said a media release from the Government Information Service.
It added: “Food, water and medication should be protected against rodent attack wherever possible. Tins, cans and bottles should be washed before consumption. The bacteria that cause leptospirosis are killed instantly by heat, disinfectants, acids and alkalis. They are also killed by being dried out. Normally cooked food and boiled water will be safe.”
Early signs of infection occur between four and 10 days after exposure, and usually begin with a fever, a red skin rash, and a general influenza-like feeling.
“Headaches, reaction to light, muscle and joint pains, vomiting and fatigue are also common. Most cases recover after a mild illness of a few days, but some progress into a severe illness over five to seven days. The patient gradually becomes more fatigued and will report headaches, fevers, generalised pain, bruising of the skin, bleeding from the nose, eye pain and gastrointestinal discomfort.”
“In some cases, the liver is affected and the patient shows jaundice – yellow skin pigment. Very similar early symptoms can be caused by a number of other waterborne diseases, and the usual diagnostic method is isolation of the bacteria from blood samples,” the Government Information Service further explained.