Infection carried by rats kills schoolgirl

2008-10-19 00:00

Johannesburg — An 18-year-old schoolgirl from the East Rand died five days after contracting a serious infection that is apparently carried by rats.

Ronél Swanepoel, a pupil at John Vorster High in Nigel, died at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on October 9, only five days after falling ill.

Her death certificate states that she died of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that, if not treated, causes liver failure and meningitis and also affects the spine.

Although this infection is not transmitted from person to person, it can be contracted if one comes into contact with water, food or soil that has been contaminated by the urine of sick animals, usually rats.

Beeld was told by a confidential source that a teacher from the same school is being treated in hospital for a similar condition.

This news comes amid concerns about the infectious arenavirus that recently claimed the lives of three people. This virus is also transmitted by rodents.

Ronél and the teacher both became ill during the school holidays. The teacher had visited KZN while Ronél had been to Hartswater in North West and a farm at Petit on the East Rand.

Ronél was treated in three state hospitals and the teacher is being treated in a private hospital

Although Ronél’s body was securely wrapped and her coffin sealed during her funeral last Wednesday, the Gauteng Health Department did not answer Beeld’s enquiries about possible further contamination.

Neither the school nor Ronél’s parents were told what had caused her death.

Sarel Swanepoel and his wife, Marietjie, Ronél’s father and stepmother, said the doctor who treated Ronél at Chris Hani Bara-gwanath told them to contact the hospital “if we feel feverish”.

According to the website of the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, leptospirosis is usually not transmitted through physical contact between people.

But Health Department spokeswoman Zanele Mngadi would not explain why Ronél’s coffin had to be sealed. All she said was that “the department may not give out any patient’s private information without permission” — even if public safety may be at risk.

The Swanepoels said Ronél, who “never got sick”, suddenly became unwell. “Her body turned yellow and her stomach became distended … We thought she had jaundice, but then a doctor said she had liver failure,” Marietjie said. They believe she did not get the necessary treatment in the state hospitals.

Her school’s headmaster, Deon Naudé, said he does not believe there is any reason for concern.

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