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Kerala: Disease outbreak threat looms as relief work continues

Flooding. Risk of infectious disease outbreaks. Copyright: <a href=''>ajijchan / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Floodwaters in the Kuttanad region of Kerala.

The Union health ministry has pledged its support for those hit by savage floods in Kerala, as fears of disease outbreaks loom.

Kerala is battling one of the worst calamities in its history with nature’s fury leaving over 400 dead and lakhs homeless. The effect has also spread over to the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Now as the water begins to recede, Kerala is shifting focus to relief and rehabilitation. But a big hurdle in the path to recovery is the threat of disease epidemic outbreaks. With carcacasses flowing in the river, floodwater there is a threat to millions of lives.

Adding to the risk of disease outbreaks is the mass displacement caused by the floods, forcing more than 200,000 families into relief camps. This has added to fears of disease outbreaks.  Efforts are now being made to ensure hygiene and cleanliness.

Flooding in the Angamaly suburb of Kochi. Image credit: By Ranjithsiji [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
Flooding poses a number of risks to public health and safety. This includes the potential a number of vector- or water-borne infectious diseases to spread, such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, dengue, and malaria.

While no disease outbreaks have been reported from the state as of yet, the health ministry is taking proactive preemptive measures. This includes establishing 3757 medical relief camps to administer medical aid to those afflicted by the floods and is dispatching rapid response teams to prevent and control outbreaks of infectious diseases. The ministry has also sent supplies of medicines to treat conditions such as diarrhoea and fever.

There is some good news. Floodwaters are receding to lowlands and heavy showers are not forecast for the coming week. However, the situation is still in need of monitoring to avert disease outbreaks and control rates of infections, to ensure that what is an environmental catastrophe does not become one of public health too.

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