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AT the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), doctors see about one or two cases of severe leptospirosis a month and it mainly involves young adults who have been to waterfalls, gone fishing or indulged in other nature-based recreational activities, says Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, head of the the centre's infectious disease unit.
There were also suspected cases during the Johor floods a few years ago.In fact, leptospirosis-causing bacteria is said to be common worldwide, especially in tropical countries with heavy rainfall.Flooding after rainfall spreads the bacteria.Dr Adeeba explains that the symptoms of leptospirosis are similar to dengue and other viral infections, so it may be difficult to detect or it may be initially mistaken for dengue. It's important for doctors to properly investigate and rule it out should people come in complaining of severe headache, muscle pain and vomiting, especially if these people have been active outdoors. "The patient's history and recent activities should alert the doctor to the possibility of an infection and a test done to confirm it," she says. Dr Adeeba says what's lacking is a good diagnostic test for the condition.Although there is a test used presently to determine leptospirosis, the results are not as accurate as one would like it to be and it takes time to obtain results. Furthermore, since leptospirosis is not a reportable disease like dengue, there could be many undetected cases. Infection usually occurs when people come into contact with water that is contaminated with the urine of infected rodents through activities like swimming and wading in contaminated lakes, rivers and streams.
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