“High risk” rat-transmitted disease for homeless identified in Boston

The Boston Public Health Commission warns of a dangerous rat-borne disease that puts homeless people at “high risk” as rodent populations and encampments explode side by side in Mass and Cass.

“The Boston Public Health Commission is investigating a case of human leptospirosis resulting in hospitalization,” the BPHC said in notes sent to city first responders and clinicians in Boston.

Leptospirosis is a potentially nasty disease transmitted through the urine of an infected animal – often rats or mice. It is a bacterial infection that is normally rare in the United States, according to the BPHC fact sheet.

The potential symptoms read as what you don’t want: “fever, headache, myalgia, conjunctival suffusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cough and / or rash. Serious symptoms can include jaundice, renal failure, hemorrhage (especially pulmonary), aseptic meningitis, cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary failure and hemodynamic collapse… even death.

BPHC says it’s usually mild, but sometimes it gets worse in two phases – first with flu-like symptoms, then more severe often developing a week later, sometimes after the person seems to be sore. be restored.

The BPHC tells clinicians to be on the lookout for this disease. WCVB first reported that the city was struggling with a case of leptospirosis.

“In the context of the increasing homelessness associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing number of rodents, people who are homeless and / or residing in assembly places should also be considered at high risk,” wrote the BPHC in a note to clinical providers in the city. When asked if the identified case was in the Mass and Cass area, the BPHC said: “The BPHC cannot disclose any information regarding the residential address of a particular case, although the risk of exposure is increased in homeless living conditions “.

This is one of a number of diseases called “reportable diseases” – those that clinicians should notify the health department about. The BPHC tells people to “Collect housing status history, including shelters or camps” from people with the disease.

The BPHC is also warning first responders to be aware of this and to watch for symptoms.

Michael MacNeil, of the EMS workers union, said the city had not done enough to prevent this.

“The city has turned a blind eye to the appalling conditions in Mass and Cass and is treating its first responders like canaries in the coal mines.”

It comes as conditions deteriorate near the Newmarket area of ​​the South End, known as the Mass and Cass or Methadone Mile, where it remains essentially a large tent town of people living on the streets, consuming or selling. often drugs. Locals say the rat population – periodically a problem in various areas of Boston – has particularly exploded there in recent times.

Earlier this week, the Herald reported that municipal workers at BPHC-run shelters on the Mile were alarmed by the area’s treacherous conditions and that several had fallen ill – to the point that they had to be hospitalized. A worker who had been ill told the Herald he saw a sick-looking rat creep over people on the floor.

The union representing the workers then lobbied for the city to improve conditions on the Mile and especially around the places where its workers operate.

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