LAST UPDATED: June 27/06 – Scroll to Bottom For Updates
How will the current garbage crisis on Barbados impact the spread of deadly Leptospirosis during the coming rainy season? Research by Barbados Free Press raises important questions for the Ministries of Health & Environment.
Barbados Free Press calls upon Barbados Environment Minister Elizabeth Thompson to answer the following questions…
1/ What are the Leptospirosis statistics for the past five years?
2/ Considering the known correlation between garbage, rats and Liptospirosis, when will the hundreds of illegal garbage dumpsites on the island be cleaned up?
3/ Considering the known correlation between amount of rainfall received and the annual rate of Liptospirosis infections and deaths, and considering the current garbage crisis and rat population, how many infections and deaths are predicted for 2006 at nominal rainfall levels? At higher rainfall levels? (We know that you have statistical models already on your desk, Minister. Let the public see them.)
4/ What programs & policies will be implemented immediately to…
a/ Assess, clean up, monitor & deter illegal garbage dumping, and
b/ Further protect citizens and visitors from Leptrospirosis and other rat-borne diseases?
When our surprised co-editor Robert stumbled across a car rental agency website that warned tourists about crime and water quality problems with Leptospirosis in Barbados, he posted Barbados Car Rental Advice: “Notorious Locals Rob Tourists In Their Cars” & “Be Careful of The Water”. This post generated some excellent discussion in our comments section.
While some of our readers considered the car rental website to be engaging in sensationalism or at least exaggeration, Leptospirosis has been a concern throughout the tropics (not just Barbados) for at least the last fifty years. We also found some other travel websites that warn tourists to Barbados about Leptospirosis, so the first website was not an isolated publication.
A few readers and our own Shona correctly pointed out that it is foolish to drink non-purified water in any country, but the question remained: How concerned should we be? Is the car rental website over the top?
Here is an excerpt from the CDC Centers for Disease Control website…
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals… If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, and respiratory distress. In rare cases death occurs…
Outbreaks… are usually caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of infected animals… cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, rodents, and wild animals. Humans become infected through contact with water, food, or soil containing urine from these infected animals… by swallowing contaminated food or water or through skin contact, especially with mucosal surfaces, such as the eyes or nose, or with broken skin.
It is an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors or with animals… It is a recreational hazard for those who participate in outdoor sports in contaminated areas… swimming, wading, and whitewater rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers. The incidence is also increasing among urban children.
Robert knows to wash his hands, but his city-boy roots were revealed by Titilayo of Gallimaufry Blog, who correctly pointed out the Bajan school programs that at one point taught the children to take the issue of lepto seriously…
“…every child in my class knew what leptospirosis was, what some of the causes were and what to do to avoid it (things like not drinking stream/spring water, not playing around in dirty/standing water and puddles, not touching animal excreta, etc.).
Then there was a period where you didn’t hear much about it, but I was under the impression that the public awareness campaign had been stepped up in recent times (I think because the weather in the past year or so has been much wetter and leptospiroris is transmitted by standing water, mud, swampy areas etc.)…”
Deaths in Barbados
According to the Pan American Health Association (PAHO) Barbados has the only leptospirosis laboratory in the subregion, which performs diagnostic work for other Caribbean territories; the laboratory also provides training for these other territories.
The data from the PAHO shows the following Barbados Leptospirosis reports…
– 1993 – 31 Cases, 6 Deaths.
– 1994 – 17 Cases, 4 Deaths.
– 1995 – 34 Cases, 8 Deaths.
– 1996 – 31 Cases, 6 Deaths (Barbados Advocate article here)
– 1999 – 6 Cases, 1 Death.
We are still looking for more recent statistics, but Barbados does not appear to post these on any government website.
Annual Rainfall & Infection Rates
Many studies have shown a significant correlation between the amount of rain received and the annual infections and deaths from Leptospirosis. The higher the rainfall during a given period, the higher the rates of infection and death.
Some of the primary studies were conducted right here in Barbados. Here is a CDC letter that explains the correlation in a straightforward manner.
Rats, Garbage & Leptospirosis – Connections
“Rats are considered the most significant carrier of leptospirosis worldwide.”
Australian Ministry of Health Publication
This connection has been covered within the last year in the Barbados media. The Nation News published a few excellent articles, including “Tackling Smart Rats” by Robert Best and “Litter, a Pain for RSPCA” by Janelle Walters.
The connection between rats, garbage and Leptospirosis was also covered in opinion pieces published in the Nation News, including “Try to Correct Injustices First” by Winsome Williams and a June 3, 2005 DLP article “A Sorry Government”.
Barbados Garbage Crisis
Last week, Barbados Environment Minister Elizabeth Thompson admitted that there are hundreds of illegal dumps on the island. She also revealed that during the past 12 years, not one person or business has ever been charged and brought before the courts for illegal dumping in Barbados.
Barbados Free Press covered the Minister’s statements in an article “Barbados Environment Minister Admits Failure Over Hundreds of Illegal Garbage Dumps.” Leptospirosis is only one of the increased health risks associated with the hundreds of illegal garbage dumps on Barbados.
Well, Minister Thompson? What are you and the Owen Arthur Government going to do about all this?
… or perhaps another 12 years of doing nothing is all we can expect?
UPDATED: Feb 21/06 – St. Phillip Primary School Closed Due to Rats
Caribbean Broadcasting Company reports that classes at the St. Philip Primary School were cancelled Monday February 20, 2006 after staff and students encountered rodents on the premises.
The school is expected to be closed for a few days. Read the full Cbc.bb article here.
UPDATED: June 27, 2006 – Government Releases Recent Statistics
A Barbados Advocate article Locals Urged To Protect Themselves Against Leptospirosis includes more recent statistics on deaths and infections.
2003: 11 infections, 2 deaths
2004: 28 infections, 2 deaths