KOCHI: The death of Biswajit Das, an 18-year-old migrant worker in Pathanamthitta, was an eye- opener to the state, prompting the Health Department to issue an alert against the outbreak of cholera.
“There is every chance of cholera spreading throughout Kerala. Surveillance activities need to be intensified in all areas with special focus on high-risk areas,” said the alert issued by Dr Reena K J, Additional Director of Public Health.
The Health Department has issued notices to the medical officers in all districts to be vigilant in this regard. Ernakulam, which accounts for the largest number of migrants also has started precautionary measures in anticipation of an exigency.
“There is every chance of cholera spreading throughout Kerala. Surveillance activities need to be intensified in all areas with special focus on high-risk areas,” said the alert issued by Dr Reena K J, Additional Director of Public Health.The Health Department has issued notices to the medical officers in all districts to be vigilant in this regard.
Ernakulam, which accounts for the largest number of migrants also has started precautionary measures in anticipation of an exigency.
"As of now, there are no cases of cholera reported in the district,” said Dr K R Vidya, Deputy District Medical Officer, Ernakulam.
“We are focusing on the migrant population as they are vulnerable. We will be taking water samples from various areas for testing at the Thiruvananthapuram public health laboratory.” Though the feeling is most migrant workers coming to the state are healthy, there could be among them some carriers of disease, as they hail from states that have poor heath conditions.
"Those who employ them must give proper facilities for residence, cooking and sanitation, and ensure hygienic living conditions. The employers must ensure proper medical tests and check-ups.
Recently, at an inspection at Kakkanad, we found around 350 migrant labourers living in poor conditions. They had only two toilets; clearly, they had to resort to open defecation,” said Vidya.
The truth about 'thattu'
'Thattukada', the roadside food vending stalls operating in temporary sheds or in handcarts or sometimes even in motor carts, are sources of diseases, mainly due to their misuse of water.
At most of these wayside eateries, water is reused several times to wash dishes. Ice used here is made in unhealthy conditions or made even for some other purpose like fish processing, resulting in the spread of waterborne diseases.
Though, according to official records, there were only 809 roadside eateries (which sell cooked food) in the district, the unofficial number is pegged at around 5,000. According to health authorities, the roadside stalls selling fruit, fish and meat would push numbers up to 10,000. A large number of them is operated by the migrant population.
"Many street food joints violate rules. We consider those shops which don’t have the food safety license and those which don't have health cards for workers as illegal. Most of them employ or are operated by migrant labourers. We found 289 violations in an inspection covering just 20 per cent of the Kochi Corporation area,” said P N Sreenivasan the nodal officer of a squad formed jointly by the Departments of Food Safety, Local Self Government, Civil Supplies, Health and Police.
The squad is conducting inspections at Kochi Corporation and the municipalities of Aluva, Tripunithura, Kalamassery, Paravur, Angamali, Perumbavoor and Thrikkakara in the urban areas, and Kattuvalli, Varappuzha, and Cheranellur panchayats in the rural areas.
"We have given notices to eight hotels, including some big ones, and to 67 roadside eateries in rural areas,” said Sreenivasan.Though a majority of these stalls belong to persons from the lower strata of society, the disaster management committee of the Kochi Corporation has noted 59 such stalls are owned by a single person, “In instances such as these, it is not just about a livelihood for an economically backward person. This happens when there is strong political patronage,” said an officer on condition of anonymity.
How cholera spreads
Cholera, an acute diarrhoea, is caused by an infection in the intestine by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe. Approximately, one in ten (5 to10 per cent) infected persons will show severe symptoms characterised by profuse watery diarrhoea, vomiting and leg cramps.
Rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within an hour.
A person can get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium. The bacterium is usually found in water or food sources contaminated by the faeces of a cholera-infected person. It is most likely to be found and spread in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene.
The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and potable water. The disease is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill.
Drink and use safe water.
Bottled water with unbroken seals and canned/bottled carbonated beverages are safe to drink and use.
Use safe water to brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, and to make ice.
Clean food preparation areas and kitchenware with soap and safe water and let it dry completely before reuse.
Piped water sources, drinks sold in cups or bags, or ice may not be safe and should be boiled or treated with chlorine.
Wash your hands often with soap and safe water .
Use latrines or bury your faeces; do not defecate in any waterbody.
Cook food well (especially seafood), keep it covered, eat it hot, and peel fruits and vegetables.
Clean the kitchen and places where the family bathes and washes clothes.
To be sure water is safe to drink and use:
Boil it or treat it with a chlorine product.
If boiling, bring your water to a complete boil for at least 1 minute.
Always store your treated water in a clean, covered container.