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Farming can pose leptospirosis threat

Published:Saturday | May 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Banana, cocoa, and coconut trees provide harbourage for rodents. - File

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer


A SENIOR public health inspector has cited the nature of agricultural activities, specifically the type of crops cultivated, as a major factor driving rodent infestation and harbourage.

While identifying the absence of structured garbage collection as the number-one reason for the strong rat population in Hopewell Phase 2, St Mary, Albert Brown, chief public health inspector for the parish, pointed to the cultivation of cocoa, coconut, and banana as a major reason for the outlying communities to be hot spots for rodent infestation.

The Richmond area of St Mary is the strongest cocoa-growing belt in Jamaica, and according to Brown, this has the potential to predispose the area to leptospirosis, a disease spread by rats, farm animals, and domestic animals. Rats, however, have been linked to most cases of this bacterial disease, and containing their population is key to reducing the risk of infection.

The sustainability of a rodent population is influenced largely by the availability of food, shelter, and water, with the communities of Highgate, Frazerwood, Tremolsworth, Bellfield, and others in western St Mary providing much sustenance for rats, according to Brown.

"It is related to the sort of activities practised in this area: the growing of cocoa, which is a prime rat food. They find harbourage in the husk and in the tree, and they find food in the cocoa as well. This is a prime coconut area as well, and that is another agricultural produce that attracts rats and feeds them and harbours them in many different ways - in the 'house' of the coconut trees."

Trees as homes, food

He explained the correlation further: "They feed on the coconut, and the tree and limbs provide a getaway route for rats. Sometimes they use the tree to mate, and this area being a prime rodent harbourage area because of the banana, cocoa, and coconut, that is how we have a number of leptospirosis cases.

The chief public health inspector, who addressed the recent launch of a rodent-control project for Hopewell Phase 2 in Highgate, told The Gleaner afterwards that it was important to recognise that dogs and cats, as well as horses, can become infected with the potentially fatal disease. Humans usually get infected through direct contact with the urine of infected animals, or with a urine-contaminated environment.

Brown went on to clarify that communities with cocoa, coconut, and banana as the main agricultural crops were hot spots in terms of rodent average, but this did not automatically translate into them being leptospirosis zones. He stressed the importance of greater vigilance and adherence to proper solid-waste disposal with an eye to always making the environment unfriendly to the harbourage of rodents.