Thursday, December 30, 2004

Health: Water Is Key to Averting Epidemics Along Coasts

Witnessing the after effects of Tsunami. People should be more comprehensive to the importance of Water & health. We are fortunate that we are not affected.

But this incident should call for the review of the forecast of the pre-warning & the supply of safe drinking water after the incident as well.

Water Is Key to Averting Epidemics Along Coasts

Tens of thousands of tsunami survivors are at risk from diseases spread by dirty water, mosquitoes and crowding, and the best medicine is large quantities of clean water, officials of the World Health Organization said yesterday.

While no epidemics have been confirmed in the vast coastal areas devastated by the tsunamis on Sunday, the officials said they were most worried about diarrheal diseases - cholera, typhoid fever and shigellosis - as well as liver diseases like hepatitis A and E. Those diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses in contaminated drinking water or food, in sewage and among people who lack clean water to wash their hands.

Health organizations like the W.H.O. and Unicef recommend that each person be given about five gallons of clean water a day. Dr. David Nabarro, the director of crisis operations for the W.H.O., said in a telephone interview from its headquarters in Geneva that water shortages had already occurred in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and that tanker trucks would be needed to provide clean water.

In addition, water-purifying tablets are being rushed into the affected countries, along with medicines to treat the dehydration that can result from diarrhea.

Another hazard to drinking water is contamination of wells by salt water from the tsunamis. Martin Dawes, a regional spokesman for Unicef in Colombo, Sri Lanka, estimated that 1,000 drinking-water wells in the country's hard-hit eastern region had been contaminated and would have to be pumped out.

"At the moment," he said, "the water people don't have the right kind of pumps to rescue the wells." He added that his agency was seeking pumps or money to buy them.

Mr. Dawes said Unicef had also bought about 20 million gallons of drinking water in 1,500-gallon barrels, enough for 100,000 people, and was expecting them to be delivered to the affected areas on Thursday.

Dr. Nabarro also said there had been unconfirmed reports of measles in Sri Lanka. "That does give me cause for concern, because we would have expected a pretty high level of coverage by immunization in Sri Lanka," he said. The disease is caused by a virus that spreads through the air when patients cough, particularly in overcrowded conditions like shelters set up for people whose homes were destroyed.

Although influenza can also spread rapidly in such conditions, the areas hit by the tsunamis have not reported flu outbreaks, and are unlikely to experience them, officials said.

Among the diarrheal diseases, cholera, typhoid and shigellosis are caused by bacteria. In cholera, the bacterium produces a toxin that causes severe fluid loss and can kill quickly, and the key to treating it is to replace fluids. Typhoid can also be fatal and requires antibiotic treatment. Shigellosis causes severe dysentery but usually goes away in about a week.

Dr. Nabarro said relief workers would provide antibiotics to treat these infections, but he said the health organization recommended against using the drugs prophylactically, to prevent illness. Widespread use of the drugs in healthy people would contribute to the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Read More....
The New York Times > International > International Special > Health: Water Is Key to Averting Epidemics Along Coasts

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