First cases of flood-related diseases registered in the Czech Republic

The first cases of infectious diseases have occurred in the Czech Republic in the wake of recent floods in the country. Health officials say people have contracted flood-related diseases mostly during clean-up operations when they have worked without protective gear.

In South Bohemia, where the floods came first, there are already five registered cases of leptospirosis, an infection disease caused by bacteria in rodent droppings and spread by water. One person has contracted a more serious form, called Weil's disease, which might be fatal. All five patients - none of whom was a professional rescue worker - were cleaning up their own houses after the floods. Fortunately, almost all of them are suffering from just a milder form of the disease.

More cases of leptospirosis are expected in the coming days, because in autumn the number of mice and rats is at its peak. Leptospirosis is usually contracted after a person touches things which have been in contact with rodent droppings or urine. The infection can enter the bloodstream through nothing more than a slight scratch. The first symptoms resemble those of the flu but in the later stages the patient suffers from high fevers and disorders in the central nerve system and the functions of livers and kidneys.

The disease is not transmittable from person to person, it is only spread by contaminated water. Five years ago, after similarly heavy floods in Moravia, four people died of leptospirosis. This year, health officials say, doctors are better prepared and they are immediately sending patients with suspected leptospirosis to a specialist.

The main health official, Michael Vit warns people to be prudent. Although the floods have receded, there are still lots of puddles and mud, and that's a perfect environment for bacteria, Mr. Vit says. Although total protection does not exist, people should wear gloves and rubber boots, and wash their hands frequently when working in the flood-stricken areas.