Thursday, July 26, 2018

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It has been raining here for more than a week. Most of the metro is now flooded and the surrounding provinces have been placed under a state of calamity. Nothing new if you live in the tropics. Incessant rain, tropical storms, and flooding are a yearly occurrence from late May until August. 

Flooding can be caused by a variety of reasons. Nature can dump a lot of rain during high tide which gives rise to flooding in low lying areas. However, in urban places, flooding is usually the result of poor drainage systems, inefficient waste management, and lack of urban planning. Whatever the reason may be,  getting trapped in a flooded area is bound to subject residents to water-borne diseases. The 4 most common diseases are Cholera, Typhoid Fever, Leptospirosis and Hepatitis A.

Cholera

Cholera is a disease characterized by severe watery diarrhea. This is caused by ingestion of water or food contaminated with the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. This bacteria thrives in stagnant or brackish water. Flooding may cause displacement of this contaminated water which may find its way into water pipes that have been compromised. Cholera is most often the first concern of health workers attending to the victims of flooding who are temporarily housed in evacuation centers. Lack of adequate toilets and issues with sanitation are factors that may cause an outbreak. 

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid Fever is brought about by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the feces of a person infected with the bacteria Salmonella typhi. This bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage. Common in highly populated areas with inadequate toilet facilities, poor personal hygiene and sanitation. One person infected with the disease may cause an outbreak in the area. Symptoms of the disease are fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, generalized body aches and pains.

Leptospirosis

When we hear of the term Leptospirosis, the first things that come into our minds are rats and floodwaters. Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Leptospira. The hosts are not only rats but also other domesticated/farm animals such as cattle, pigs, horses, horses, and dogs. The bacteria get into the soil and water through the feces and urine of infected animals and may survive in that environment weeks or months. Humans get infected through contact with urine or other body fluids of the infected animal or through contact with soil/water contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria can enter the human body through a break in the skin or contact with mucus membranes (eyes, mouth, nose). Wading in floodwaters is a common cause of this disease outbreak. Symptoms of the disease are high fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea, chills muscle aches, and diarrhea. May also present with jaundice and later on, kidney failure and meningitis.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral infection and is highly contagious. Although wading in flood waters does not have a direct correlation with getting the disease, a person may get the disease by ingesting water contaminated with fecal matter. In places where there are long-standing floods, the water supply pipes may be compromised and contamination may set in. An outbreak may also be observed in evacuation centers. One asymptomatic person may pass on the virus through unsanitary food preparation. There are many other modes of transmission of the disease which you may read here.

How can we protect ourselves from these diseases?

Basic knowledge of proper sanitation and hygienic practices are our first line of defense against these diseases. Here is a list of ways to keep these diseases at bay (with our without flooding in your area):

  • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before eating and after using the toilet.
  • Practice proper sanitation. 
  • Clean your surroundings to get rid of breeding places of mosquitos and rodents.
  • Do not drink water or any beverage from questionable sources. When traveling, it is best to drink bottled water and use bottled water too when brushing your teeth.
  • Avoid wading in flood waters. However, if it cannot be avoided, thoroughly wash the parts of your body that came in contact with the flood. Use an antibacterial soap and apply rubbing alcohol (surgical solution) on your skin before drying off.   
  • Get vaccinated! 
We do not have any control over the forces of nature. Flash floods, storm surges, landslides are all brought about by incessant rain. As long as we are prepared in the event of any calamity, we are ensured of our survival and we can protect ourselves from falling ill. 

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