Leptospirosis still killing victims in Vanuatu’s north

Following an increase in the potentially deadly disease of leptospirosis in northern Vanuatu last year, Sanma’s Northern Provincial Hospital says it is continuing to record new cases in 2021.

Amos Tabimal from Sanma Provincial Health, says, this week the Northern Provincial Hospital recorded its forty-fourth case of leptospirosis since March last year.

“The case was identified on Monday this week which means the disease is not yet gone,” Mr Tabimal said.

He says the hospital has already recorded three deaths from the disease in Sanma in 2021.

Leptospirosis is a rare bacterial disease caught from the urine of infected animals – mainly rats – but also dogs, farm animals and other rodents.

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 in humans.

Mr Tabimal says leptospirosis cases have now been identified in Sanma’s Solwei, Pepsi, Pump Station, Radio Station, Mango, Beleru, Showground, Shapiu, Banban, Teproma Turtle Bay, IRHO, Natawa, Hoghabour, Cole, Lati and Nakere areas; and on Tangoa and Aore islands.

Mr Tabimal says other areas in Sanma are not necessarily free of the disease but may not have had cases identified due to a lack of testing.

“Some of us show signs of this disease when we are infected, but others may not show any signs or symptoms even if they have the bacteria in their body,” he says.

“If a person’s antibodies are weak then that person is more likely to show signs and symptoms of this disease. But, if their antibodies are strong a person may not show any signs and symptoms of the disease even if they are infected.

“Only a laboratory test will find out if a person has the bacteria in their body.”

Mr Tabimal says the symptoms of the disease are high fever, headache, body pain and when it gets worse, the whites of a patient’s eyes look yellow.

He says it can take a week for the symptoms to develop.

He is calling on the public in Sanma not to wait until they notice symptoms of leptospirosis before seeking a medical test; and not to try and treat the disease with custom medicine.

“If we ignore symptoms or think that we can use herbal medicine to treat a patient – then the more we delay – the more likely it is the disease will kill the patient,” Mr Tabimal said.

Kalotuk Kalomor, a Livestock Production and Animal Health Officer in Port Vila, says to stop the disease people should always wash kitchen utensils with clean running water and soap; or with hot water if there is no soap.

He says people must also properly wash greens and vegetables harvested from the garden with salt water and rinse with tap water before consumption.

The Northern Provincial Hospital began recording cases of leptospirosis after Cyclone Harold hit northern Vanuatu in March 2020.

Sanma Provincial Health is stepping-up its leptospirosis public awareness activities.

“When we see the case figures going up, we have to look at our homes, our sanitation and the cleanliness of our surroundings,” Mr Tabimal says.

“The rubbish around our houses will encourage rats to come into our houses and pass on the bacteria.

“People must take this disease seriously because it kills people.”

In 2020, the Northern Provincial Hospital recorded 25 cases of leptospirosis and five deaths.

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