Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: As flood waters recede, threat of diseases looms

By Nadia Fazlulhaq - Health officials warned yesterday of an outbreak of infectious and water-borne diseases in the coming days as water levels started receding in the Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara districts. The warning came as the death toll in floods was placed at 20 while the number of people affected was around 600,000.

The Health Ministry’s Consultant Epidemiologist Anura Jayasinghe said typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, chickenpox, viral flu, rabies, dengue and rat fever (Leptospirosis) were among the diseases that could hit the people in the aftermath of the floods.

According to him an increase in food-and-water-borne diseases especially through contaminated water is common during flood situations. Fever, fatigue, headache, constipation or diarrhoea, red spots on the chest, frequent passing of faeces with blood and/or mucus, abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, jaundice and depression are some of the main symptoms of the common diseases. Those who are suffering from such symptoms should seek medication.

“Due to flooding, garbage pollutes fresh water sources, making them contaminated. Wells, lakes and streams are highly vulnerable. We can’t totally rely on direct pipe-borne water as the chlorinating process would have been affected due to frequent interruption of electricity,” he said.

Dr. Jayasinghe said boiled and cool water should be used for drinking purposes especially for children. He said that an increase in mosquito breeding might take place after the floods receded as containers that held water would be ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Dr. A. Balasooriya, consultant community physician attached to the Health Education Bureau, said green leaves should not be eaten during these days as they might be contaminated and the people should be conscious of cleanliness aspects when buying meals from outside.

He said that leptospirosis (rat fever) could be transmitted by many animals including rats. The people should be watchful while travelling in flood hit areas as there was an increase in snake bite cases.
The Western Province was the worst affected by the torrential rains that continued for more than a week with Gampaha district having the highest number of displaced people.

Gampaha District Secretary J.J. Ratnasiri said that although the rain had eased, the flood waters were receding only at a slow pace in some of the worst affected areas such as Kelaniya, Mahara, Ja-ela and Katana. He said cooked meals were being distributed in 46 camps for the displaced people.

According to the Disaster Management Centre National Coordinator, Pradeep Kodipilli, 20 deaths were reported and a total of 606,072 persons or 141,586 families were affected by the floods.

“Around 466 houses were fully damaged due to floods, eartslips and gusty winds while 1,943 houses were partially damaged mainly in Galle, Gampaha and Kalutara. There are 14,634 persons in 69 IDP camps in Gampaha, Colombo, Kalutara, Puttlam, Ratnapura, Galle and Matara. Among them 9,925 are from Gampaha”, he said.

In Gampaha district, Divulapitiya, Attanagalle, Biyagama, Ja-ela, Dompe, Gampaha, Wattala, Minuwangoda, Negombo, Mahara, Katana, Kelaniya were the worst affected areas.

In Colombo district areas in the Colombo city, Kollonnawa, Moratuwa, Kesbewa, Piliyandala, Kotte, Rajagiriya, Padukka, Homagama, Ratmalana, Dehiwala, Maharagama, Seethawaka and Kaduwela went under water.

In the Kalutara District, Horana, Bandaragama, Matugama and Palinda Nuwara were the worst affected with several instances of landslides.

A senior official of the Meteorology Department attributed the floods to the pre-monsoon conditions, atmospheric disturbances in the Bay of Bengal, effects of cyclone Laila and the establishing of the South West monsoon.

30 snake bites

At least 30 people including children were admitted to hospital after being bitten by snakes in flood-hit areas, mainly in the Gampaha district, hospital officials said.

Most of the victims were bitten when they re-entered their homes to collect essential belongings, Dr. Teja Perera of the Ragama hospital said adding that most of the victims were bitten by cobras and russell’s vipers. Dr. Perera said none of the victims was in a life-threatening condition as they were treated in time.

© The Sunday Times
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