Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Advice from lab director


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Eating with a “spoon” cut from an unwashed coconut shell can make you seriously ill with leptospirosis.
Though eating coconut jelly in this way is a popular practice and, to date, there have been no reports of anyone contracting the rodent-borne disease by this method, a local expert is warning that this could happen.
“It is possible,” said director of the Barbados Leptospira Laboratory, Dr Maquita Gittens-St Hilaire, in a telephone interview.
Rat nests
“We have known of persons contracting leptospirosis by being in coconut trees; so it is possible,” she said.
“Rats can make nests in coconut trees and I wouldn’t know what persons would do after they pick the coconuts.
“Vendors should try to hose down the coconuts. To cut the spoon off like that is a little dangerous. People should be very careful,” said Gittens-St Hilaire, who heads the lab,  which conducts testing and undertakes research into leptospirosis, dengue, and the hantavirus.
Gittens-St Hilaire’s warning comes at the height of the rainy season when leptospirosis is usually most prevalent.
So far this year up to September 23, there were five reported cases of leptospirosis, with no deaths recorded. For the corresponding period in 2009, eight cases were recorded, with two deaths.
This rainy season is also when dengue fever, caused by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is most prevalent. So far this year dengue has claimed three lives.
In a previous interview, Gittens-St Hilaire said if the average individual adopted certain simple habits they would be able to avoid contracting both of these illnesses.
“Keep your surroundings tidy. Generally, rats will habitate in [unkempt] places, so it is important to keep your surroundings clean and tidy – it reduces the source of rat food.
Tidy surroundings
“For dengue, also keep surroundings tidy, and remove anything that collects water or holds stagnant water – that is what is required to prevent the growth of the habitat of mosquitoes,” said the doctor.
She said protection measures could be as simple as wearing gloves and boots in the garden and “the adequate removal of pet foods after they have eaten, because it can encourage rats”.
Gittens-St Hilaire also warned that symptoms of leptospirosis may be flu-like, but one could differentiate between the two if symptoms like high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting occur.
Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or a rash may also occur.
The symptoms of dengue are flu-like as well, but one can differentiate between this and leptospirosis if there is retro-orbital (behind the eye) pain, severe joint and muscle pain, and rashes appear.
She urged any person with any of these symptoms to seek medical help immediately.


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