Karachi’s water at risk

Published: August 22, 2010
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The out break of various diseases is feared. PHOTO: EXPRESS

The out break of various diseases is feared. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: The city’s water supply might be drastically affected when floodwaters hit the coastal areas of Thatta and flow into the Haleji and Keenjhar lakes – Karachi’s main water reservoirs – causing an outbreak of various fatal diseases in the metropolis.

Health experts believe that as the floodwaters are carrying a large number of animal carcasses, the two lakes are likely to become tainted with harmful bacteria and their water will cause various diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid, gastroenteritis and hepatitis among the residents of Karachi.

They also say the internally displaced persons (IDPS) arriving in relief camps in the city are suffering from different diseases and if they are not provided timely treatment, the diseases can spread throughout the city.

“If IDPs are not provided proper medical attention at the camps, the whole city will be at risk from waterborne and viral diseases,” warned Dr Tahir Shamsi, an infectious diseases specialist.

A large number of IDPs are also suffering from tuberculosis and liver diseases. The children and women at relief camps might also develop anaemia as food supplies are scarce at the camps.

“Reports of malaria, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, cholera and other diseases cases have started pouring in from various areas of the city,” Dr Shamsi said. “People with a weaker immune system are the first ones to fall victim to viral infections and eventually the whole population gets affected.”

There are also fears that floodwaters will inundate the National Highway in Thatta, suspending traffic to Karachi and causing a depleted supply of vegetables and other commodities to the city.

Dengue cases

Cases of dengue virus have been reported in hospitals across the city as the monsoons recede.

At least a dozen people, complaining of high fever, were brought into National Institute of Blood Diseases, Liaquat National Hospital, Ziauddin Hospital, Civil Hospital Karachi and others. Many of them have tested positive for the virus.

The provincial health department has directed that the Dengue Surveillance Cell should be made functional. Provincial Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed has asked the head of the Dengue Surveillance Cell to gather details of dengue patients currently under treatment in all hospitals and ensure provision of facilities necessary to treat the virus in all government hospitals.

Last year, cells splitters machines were supplied to government hospitals of interior Sindh. However, the administration of these hospitals said they do not have kits, which is a significant requirement in the treatment of dengue fever.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2010.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Aug 23, 2010 - 12:17PM

    Carcasses—whether human or animal—don’t pose a serious risk of contaminating water. This is one of those myths that seems to spring up after floods anywhere in the world.

    The real risk is of feces getting into the water, and then people drinking that contaminated water.

    Here is a bit more information to back up what I’ve said:

    In the well-regarded journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, published by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it says:

    “No evidence exists that exposure to bodies after a disaster leads to infectious disease epidemics; however, persons handling human corpses and animal carcasses might be exposed to infectious pathogens and should use appropriate protective equipment.”

    (The article is here: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5438a6.htm)

    Another page from the CDC on flood response (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/pe-workers.html) elaborates:

    “There is no direct risk of contagion or infectious disease from being near human remains for people who are not directly involved in recovery or other efforts that require handling dead bodies. However, workers who must have direct contact with human remains can have exposure to blood borne pathogens. Blood, bloody fluids, body fluids, and tissues are potential sources of blood-borne infections from pathogens including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.”

    That is, you can catch hepatitis or HIV from dead humans, just as you can from live humans. But unless you are in direct contact with the bodies, you do not face any serious risk of catching these diseases, the CDC says.

    Also, for the record, most of the diseases mentioned in this article—cholera, gastroenteritis, typhoid—are caused by bacteria, not by viruses. These bacteria get into the water supply from feces.

    The biggest risk of disease after a flood is an outbreak of cholera, typhoid, or other diseases that spread from human to human. These waterborne diseases aren’t caused by dead bodies in the water—whether from people or from animals. Instead, they’re caused by feces getting into the water, and then people drinking from that contaminated water.

    See this World Health Organization webpage for more information:
    http://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/ems/flood_cds/en/Recommend

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