Looking for Weil’s Disease in All the Wrong Places

Top left, above the fold, in today’s Mercury is a fascinating wee article. Blood tests for shack dwellers, we’re told. Shack dwellers in Cato Manor had blood drawn last year, to test for diseases which they might have caught through contact with vermin.

“Blood and tissue samples from four species of rats and mice collected in Durban during the past two years all came up negative for bubonic plague, but in some parts of the city more than 30% of rats were found to be carrying leptospirosis [aka Weil’s disease] and about 10% were carrying toxoplasmosis. Both diseases can be passed from rats to humans. Although healthy people are unlikely to suffer much more than flu-like symptoms, the sicknesses can be fatal for the very young or old, as well as people infected with HIV/Aids.”

Meanwhile, at the Leptospirosis Centre, we discover that in 1995, two years into the Clinton presidency, the number of cases of Weil’s disease in the United States dropped to zero. What’s their secret? Say the researchers at Leptospirosis.org: “our conclusion has to be that the US reporting and testing system failed.” It certainly has. At the World Health Organization, even with a vastly deficient reporting system, it seems the U.S. mortality rate from Weil’s disease is higher than that of Madras.

Yes, alright, if the US figure is rubbish, the Madras one might be too.

But the bottom line is this: what the fuck?

Diseases that hop from one species to another are, of course, alarming. But in the case of bird flu, we’d not have to worry about it half as much if it weren’t for the industrial farming conditions that provide the perfect environment for these diseases to incubate. And in the case of rats? One would have thought that the elementary sanitation clues, discreetly left across Europe by the Black Death, might have been picked up on by the European Union, who are funding this study. But are they coming to install sanitation for the shackdwellers? They are not. They are coming to measure how they might die, not how they live.

And besides. Having spent time in the shacks, I can say with some confidence that I’ve seen bigger rats in New York.