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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Goa poised for bubonic plague

The dead rats you find on the road and the live ones scuttling around the city at night are getting bigger and healthier. It would be a good thing if our 40 brave men and true at the Assembly got out of their shiny white cars and walked the streets of their constituencies at night, without bodyguards. Not only would they have good inputs for the law and order situation, they would also be as worried as I am that Goa could be going the Old Goa way when the plague decimated the City of Goa and forced the Portuguese Government to rebuild their capital city at Panjim.

This is something that one cannot figure out. There is absolutely no coherent policy decision on the garbage disposal crisis facing Goa. Ever since Goa Foundation left Sonsoddo in frustration in the south and Curca in the north was closed to the garbage of Goa in the last two years, the government should have been seized of the matter. Not just Joaquim Alemao’s Department of Urban Development, but Micckey Pacheco's Department of Tourism and Environment, also Vishvajit Rane’s Department of Health, also Digu's Town and Country Planning, also Pacheco’s Dept of Agriculture, also Parrikar’s Opposition Party, our three MPs too.

Each one of these gentleman responsible for their departments is directly affected by the growing garbage crisis, that is filling our fields, our drains, our canals and creeks, even our roads. The rats on Rua de Ourem are growing so fat with the food waste and plastic thrown into the creek that they frighten the dogs. Maybe they’ll die of heart attacks but bubonic plague is spread by the fleas that live on the rats and fleas can fly anywhere and bite anyone. And plague is no stranger to Goa having decimated Old Goa a couple of centuries ago. Rats reproduce at an unbelievable rate. Before bubonic plague comes calling again, our 40 brainiacs at Porvorim should sit down and take proactive action instead of merely pretending to address the problem.

After nearly tripping on a massive rat running sluggishly near the Ourem Creek I went back home and checked up on the black rat and if you don’t want to be frightened out of your wits, stop reading right now. This is not for the faint hearted, but this is for all Goans who love life.

In a suitable environment a rat, especially the black rat variety common to Goa will breed throughout the year, with a female producing three to six litters of up to ten young. The strange thing is females regulate their production of offspring during times when food is scarce, throwing as few as only one litter a year. Food is not scarce in Goa, we throw it in gutters and fields and creeks, and the rats grow large and happy. If we stop strewing our waste around, the rat population will reduce.

A black rat lives for about 2-3 years, reproducing her head off. Social groups of up to sixty can be formed. The fleas of the black rat carry the bacterium which cause bubonic plague, typhus, toxoplasmosis and trichinosis. The Spanish plague I remember reading, wiped out 25 million people in one year. The bacteria wipe out 90 per cent of the population.

Plague is primarily a disease of rodents. Infection most often occurs when a person is bitten by a rat or flea that has fed on an infected rat. The bacteria multiply inside the flea, sticking together to form a plug that blocks its stomach and causes it to begin to starve. The flea then voraciously bites a host and continues to feed, even though it is unable to satisfy its hunger. During the feeding process, blood cannot flow into the blocked stomach, and consequently the flea vomits blood tainted with the bacteria back into the bite wound. The Bubonic plague bacterium then infects a new host, and the flea eventually dies from starvation. Any serious outbreak of plague is usually started by other disease outbreaks in rodents, or some other crash in the rodent population. During these outbreaks, infected fleas that have lost their normal hosts seek other sources of blood.

Whenever the plague has struck, it has struck hard and wide. Not merely an epidemic, the term pandemic has been used. There are quite a few dead rats in the streets of Panjim, since we get a huge number of tourists, workers and migrant population, the rest of the country and indeed the world would do well to be very afraid. They may go home with a little more than LSD, feni and cashew nuts.

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