In the last few weeks, two residents in the Ponte de Lima area of Viana do Castelo, in the north of the country, have died after contracting an unknown infection and five more have been hospitalised. The five infected patients, all of whom are residents of Seara, are being treated in Viana do Castelo hospital and one is expected to be transferred to a unit in the Porto area.
The local health authority is attempting to unravel the cause of the mysterious infection. One suggested theory is that it could be typhoid fever, but health officials admit that it could be leptospirosis, an acute infectious illness caused by the bacteria, leptospire. The bacteria are commonly associated with rats, but they can also be found in domestic pets, where they breed inside the kidneys without harming the animal and are passed out in the urine. At this point, they can be picked up by humans who ingest contaminated water or foods. It can also be contracted by direct contact with skin and infected soil.
The President of Ponte de Lima Câmara, Daniel Campelo, has denied that there is any cause for alarm, and reassured the public that the situation “has been brought to the attention of the Health Authority”. Experts from the Ricardo Jorge Institute are attempting to determine the cause of the infection.
Despite Campelo’s claim that “there is no confirmed information” about the source of the infection, a spokesman for the Health Authority advised residents not to drink water from local wells, as a precautionary measure. He also revealed that the two victims who died had developed temperatures and headaches, resulting in their deaths three or four days later under circumstances that nobody could explain.
The first fatality, a woman aged 57, occurred at the beginning of
September. Her husband and two grandchildren have been diagnosed with the same symptoms and health authority officials have already ordered the disposal of the family’s pets.
The second victim, a 70-year-old woman, died on September 20. She lived about a kilometre away and had no apparent links to the first victim. The câmara president admitted “it is all very strange and sudden”.
Earlier this week, the head of the area’s health authority, Emídio Morais, was due to have meet with local residents to reassure them of their safety, but later abandoned his plans and replaced his meeting with a radio broadcast. He claimed that it would be unwise for everyone to come into contact for fear that the mysterious infection will spread to epidemic proportions.
Meanwhile, the câmara president has put forward a proposal to close all schools and crechés in the Seara area. He has also suggested that people avoid direct contact with others until the infection can be identified. He also disclosed that 400 local wells were analysed in 2002 and 2003, and almost half were found to be contaminated with bacteria.