Cape residents warned of wet soil health risks

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  • With residual wet season boggy conditions, be aware of the increased risk of infection.
  • There are measures people can take to protect themselves.

Residual wet season boggy conditions across Cape York have prompted health authorities to issue a timely reminder to residents to look after their safety and health.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Public Health Medical Officer Dr Allison Hempenstall said all Far Northern residents should be aware of the increased risk of infection if people came into direct contact with polluted waters.

Wound infections, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, and ear, nose and throat infections can occur.

Dr Hempenstall said all wounds should be immediately cleaned, disinfected, and kept covered.

“You should also consider avoiding flood water and mud if you have broken skin or wounds, especially if you have diabetes or other chronic diseases,’’ she said.

“And please see a health professional or your doctor early for severe wounds, especially if the wound is dirty or becomes red, sore, swollen, or painful.’’

Wet conditions may also increase the risk of diarrhoeal conditions and diseases such as leptospirosis and melioidosis.

“For instance, we have already had five cases of leptospirosis across the health service region so far this year, compared to the one or two cases we might normally expect for year to date,’’ Dr Hempenstall said.

Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira bacteria, which is found in urine from infected animals including rats, mice, cattle, pigs, and dogs.

“The bacteria can enter the body through skin cuts or abrasions or through the lining of the mouth, nose, and eyes by exposure to water, soil or mud contaminated with the urine from infected animals,’’ Dr Hempenstall said.

“Rural workers are most at risk such as those working with animals or cane or banana farm workers, but it can also be caused by drinking or swimming in creeks, rivers or lakes contaminated by the urine of infected animals.

“Water affected by heavy rain or flooding are especially risky.

“That means people who participate in camping, gardening, bushwalking, and water sport pursuits can also be at risk of infection as they may have contact with contaminated water, soil, or mud during these activities.

“There are many different strains of the Leptospira bacteria, so it’s possible to be infected with leptospirosis multiple times.’’

Dr Hempenstall said symptoms of leptospirosis may include fever, severe headache, muscle aches, chills, vomiting, and red eyes, and usually develop after five to 14 days following infection.

“Symptoms can be similar to the flu so often it can be difficult to recognise and can be mistaken for other diseases,’’ she said.

“While leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics, early diagnosis is still the key.

“Serious disease such as meningitis, kidney failure, bleeding and respiratory complications can develop from leptospirosis infection if it’s not treated promptly.

“So, it’s important to see your doctor immediately if you suspect you have had exposure to contaminated water, soil, or mud, and develop these symptoms within a week or two.

“Similarly, melioidosis, of which we’ve had five cases for year to date, can be a severe and life- threatening disease.

“It requires prompt medical diagnosis with appropriate antibiotic treatment, so see a doctor immediately if you have any concerns.’’

Dr Hempenstall said there were several measures people could take to protect themselves from infection.

“If you work with animals, make sure you cover cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressing, wear protective clothing such as gloves and boots, shower after work, wash and dry hands frequently, and do not eat or smoke when handling animals,” she said.

Other safety tips to reduce the risk of leptospirosis and melioidosis:

  • Practice good hand hygiene and wash hands with soap properly and regularly, especially before eating or drinking.
  • People should treat or boil water especially if collecting from a source that could be contaminated by floodwater runoff.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in water where there is a chance of contamination with animal urine or floodwater runoff.
  • Cover cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings, especially before coming into contact with soil, mud or water that may be contaminated with animal urine.
  • Wear protective footwear outdoors, especially when walking in mud or moist soil. Avoid walking barefoot on muddy surfaces or in muddy water, particularly if you have cuts or abrasions on your feet or legs.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Control rodents by cleaning up rubbish and removing food sources that are close to housing and thoroughly clean any areas where rodents have been.
  • Wear a mask covering your nose and mouth if using a high pressure spray hose around soil.