This year’s leptospirosis outbreak in Mumbai — in which 16 people died — is the worst any district in the state has recorded since 2012.
In fact this year, Mumbai is the only district in Maharashtra that has recorded deaths as a result of the bacterial infection, which is more common in the Konkan belt.
Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhdurg districts routinely report leptospirosis cases, as the transmission of the bacterial disease is easy because of flooded paddy fields. However, in the past four years, the districts have reported fewer cases and deaths.
In 2013, Thane had reported seven deaths and in 2012, Sindhdurg had recorded five deaths (which were the highest any district has recorded before Mumbai).
In 2012, the entire state had reported 16 leptospirosis deaths, which marginally increased to 20 in 2013 and dropped further to seven last year. There have been no deaths so far in the region.
Doctors said that leptospirosis bacteria are present in urine of animals such as rats, dogs and cattle. When people wade through flooded streets, there is a higher chance of them coming in contact with such infected urine and faecal matter and contracting the disease in urban areas such as Mumbai.
“It is not difficult to treat patients with leptospirosis. We were able to reduce the mortality by identifying patients with symptoms in the initial stage and treating them,” said Dr Satish Pawar, director, directorate of health service, Maharashtra. “Once we recognise which villages are reporting cases, the health staff can easily survey the areas and identify the patients.”
In Mumbai, too, a similar exercise in the form of health checkup camps was conducted. After the first six deaths of leptospirosis were reported, the civic health department conducted health checkup camps in the slums from where deaths were being reported.
The civic health department experts, however, failed to identify patients in the beginning. “The BMC health department started the home surveillance only after the deaths were reported. Many of the deceased had visited multiple doctors before reaching the civic hospitals,” said a senior doctor aware of the civic body’s preparedness, adding that most patients did not receive doxycycline, which if administered in the initial phase of disease can reduce mortality.
However, a senior civic official said the thickly populated slums, self-medication and the presence of private doctors who are usually the first point of contact made matters worse. “There was a delay in treatment in most cases which resulted in death,” said a civic official.