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Mar 4, 1999

Swimmers warned about river contamination

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On December thirty first, 1998 an eleven year old boy in Benque Viejo del Carmen fell ill from a mysterious disease. Although he was sent to Melchor De Mencos in Guatemala for treatment, he died. After many tests it has been revealed that the death was as a result of Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can be transmitted by contact with urine from infected animals such as pigs, horses, cattle, dogs, rats and raccoons. Since then twelve more children between the ages of five and twelve have been treated in the Cayo District for symptoms resembling those of Hepatitis A and Leptospirosis. Blood samples were sent to Chetumal where seven of the cases were confirmed as Leptospirosis. Now the Ministry of Health is advising people living along the riverbanks in the Cayo District where the water may be contaminated, to be extremely careful when swimming or bathing. They should also be careful when buying food and fruits from street vendors. According to Joan Burke, the Acting Director of HECOPAB they have increased their vigilance in monitoring high-risk areas such as the Cayo and Belize Districts. Burke said while they have a team in the west conducting a number of tests, so far they have been unable to detect the source of the disease. In the meantime, they are advising the public to exercise caution.

Joan Burke, Acting Director, HECOPAB

“What happens is and especially in Belize in the country of Belize where you have sometimes animals by the river and also we have rats, we have other animals that transmit this disease that they would probably urine in the water and the bacteria tend to get into the body by way of sores, cuts, the lining of the eyes, the nose or the mouth. And that is why swimming in these water bodies becomes very, very critical because even if you go into the water — and while we encourage the bandage of cuts when you in the water — is to ensure that the bacteria don’t really gain entrance into the body.

Also of great importance is avoiding going head under the water since the lining of the eyes, the nose and the mouth are ideal entries for the bacteria.”

Q: “Since children are the major ones being affected, what advice do you have for children out there, parents, teachers and even our fruit vendors?”

Joan Burke

“If you notice from the report, the majority of the cases are among children age five to twelve and even though we’re continuing with our investigation to the source, we believe that it has some transmission by way of food, with this same street vending. We know that it is not all the time that our vendors, especially street vendors have access to treated water so yes, they sell these plums, these fruits that may not be washed properly and having the contaminated water being used.

So what we ask parents is that our teachers, the general public that one, you try to monitor children – make sure that they don’t go into water especially fresh water. And also because you have animals just roaming the area we are encouraging parents, care givers, to ensure children wear some form of footwear because they walk about barefooted, the animal urine on the soil, especially moist soil, then they can pick up the infection.”

Burke said the symptoms of Leptospirosis can easily be confused with a viral infection. Symptoms begin with a flu like illness with a persistent and severe headache, chills, muscular aches including jaundice and even vomiting. Participants of this weekend’s Ruta Maya River Challenge competition are being advised to make sure all wounds or sores are properly bandaged. Burke warns that if Leptospirosis is not treated properly, it can be fatal. If you suspect that someone you know has the disease you are asked to contact the nearest health authorities as soon as possible.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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