Deaths from leptospirosis in Vanuatu’s north

Health officials in Vanuatu’s north say there has been an increase in leptospirosis cases in Sanma Province with 25 confirmed cases of the disease and five deaths in the past six months.

In the past three weeks the numbers have climbed from 16 to 25 cases.

Casimir Liwuslili, Sanma’s Public Health Promotion Communications Officer, says the leptospirosis cases were recorded by the provincial hospital in Vanuatu’s second largest town, Luganville.

“So far the Northern Provincial Hospital’s surveillance office has confirmed 25 cases of leptospirosis and five deaths,” he said.

“This is a serious disease and we are worried. It affects almost most parts of Sanma Province.”

Mr Liwuslili says the cases were identified in some parts of Luganville, South Santo, East Santo and the Beleru area.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals.

The leptospirosis bacteria is spread through the urine (or other body fluids, except saliva) of infected animals; and can survive in water or soils for weeks or months.

In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which can be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected persons may have no symptoms at all.

Without treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress and even death.

Mr Liwuslili says the disease can be prevented by practicing good hygiene, including people keeping their homes clean, especially keeping kitchen areas free from rats.

“We have run awareness sessions about the disease in most of the areas that have been identified,” he said.

“In particular, we have been to Beleru where many cases have been identified.”

Mr Liwuslili called on people to go to hospital if they or their family members experience signs of leptospirosis.

“If you experience high fever and headache that is similar to malaria, you need to go to the hospital quickly so nurses can give you a blood test and can treat you,” he said.

He says leptospirosis patients must fully complete ten days of treatment.

“So, you can fully recover, you must take all the medicines given by the nurses, don’t just stop taking them when you start feeling better,” he said.

Infected wild and domestic animals can continue to excrete the leptospirosis bacteria into water and soils continuously or every once in a while, for a few months or even for years.

Humans and animals can be infected when the bacteria enters the body through the skin, especially if it is broken from a cut or scratch, or through mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose or mouth.

Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection.

To prevent the disease, Mr Liwuslili says people should drink and wash with clean water; and should boil water or use purification tablets if they believe water may be unclean.

People should not drink or wash their faces in flood water or water or soil that may have animal urine in it; or eat food that may have been touched by animals such as rats.

Skin scores should be covered at all times and people should wash their hands with soap and clean water before and after they prepare food; and after using the toilet or playing with animals.

Mr Liwuslili says Sanma Public Health officials are closely monitoring the situation and are providing prevention and health awareness information to the public.

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