Health Problems May Result From Floods

Dr. Kate Gaynor
Dr. Kate Gaynor
Dr. Joanne Ebesu
Dr. Joanne Ebesu

(KHNL) Besides the trash and debris, the recent flooding in Windward Oahu could cause health problems -- leptospirosis and siguatera.

"Given the fact that there is some risk with coming in contact with leoptospirosis from the flood water, if someone can avoid it, it's a good idea," said Dr. Kate Gaynor, a disease investigator with the Department Of Health.

"It's not particularly safe to play in the water."

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease transmitted in the fresh water run-off, mixed with the urine of infected animals. The bacteria can enter the human body through broken skin, or through the soft tissues inside the eyes, nose, or mouth. Gaynor says the risk is always there, but is even higher now because of the excessive run-off.

"When it floods, people are more likely to have contact with water, to be wading in flood water, or walking through mud, and that increases the chance of exposure to the infection," she said.

Gaynor says there are about 50 cases of leptospirosis in the state every year. Scientists say the run-off will create ciguatera fish poisoning.

"That usually can occur within 10 to 12 months of an extreme environmental disturbance, like the ones we had this past weekend," said Dr. Joanne Ebesu, senior biomedical scientist at Oceanit.

Ebesu says the cycle works like this: the run-off kills the coral, and the nutrients create an algae bloom. That algae includes the one that produces ciguatera. Reef fish then eat the infected algae. Big fish eat the infected fish. And people get it by eating the big fish.

"The likelihood is high we could have at least a small agae bloom in about a year because there was so much runoff, and a lot of silt entered the water," said Ebesu.

Fish known to carry siguatera poison include: ulua, papio, kole (surgeonfish), roi (grouper), palani (surgeonfish), and kaku (barracuda). Oceanit has created a test kit, to check your fish for ciguatera. It sells it most fishing supply stores. Ebesu says there are 50 siguatera cases in Hawaii every year.

While this cycle will take about a year, symptoms of leptospirosis shows up in about a week. Gaynor says it is easily curable with antibiotics, but is sometimes difficult to detect, because the symptoms are similar to that of the flu. They include: fever, headache, chills, sweating, muscle pain, painful eyes, and vomiting.

If you had contact with flood water and develop these symptoms, you should check with your doctor.