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Woman In Bahamas Gets Plague
Straw Market Vendor Falls Ill

July 16, 2007

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Woman In Bahamas Gets Plague
Straw Market Vendor Falls Ill

July 16, 2007

The plague, blamed on rats, fleas and filth, has nearly killed a woman in the Bahamas. Nassau Straw Market vendor Sophia Hepburn developed an open sore on her leg and a high fever. After 11 days in the hospital, fighting for her life, she is told she nearly died and lost her leg after becoming infected with a plague type virus.

The virus, is suspected to have developed because of the heavy moisture in the Straw Market. Vendors place tarps over their roofs to keep their goods dry, and those tarps begin to sag under the weight of accumulating water.

The water is then dumped on the ground forming pools, where rats then urinate in them.

Vendors normally clear off those tarps at night before they close up, leaving the water sitting on the ground all night, in the darkness. Late at night, rats scavenging in the Straw Market contaminate the standing water.

Dr. Marquitta Gittenn, a Barbadian leptospirosis researcher in that nation's Health Ministry, said the leptospires that spread leptospirosis are incredibly resilient and can travel through infected individuals or animals, including pets.

There are three primary prevention techniques proven to keep these diseases from becoming epidemics rodent control, flood control, and good sanitation. All three of these are lacking in the Straw Market and surrounding areas.


Rain water sits for days, trash that the rats feed on sits piled up for days, weeks, or months, and the area stays wet for prolonged periods of time. The Ministry Of Health held a meeting of Straw Market vendors after Hepburn was rushed to the hospital. At the meeting they urged the vendors to step up sanitation and rodent control. However, they never mentioned why. This cloak of secrecy was aimed at preventing a leak of the Plague victim, and scaring off tourists when the rumor began to circulate.

There are two different forms of the virus health officials are looking at in this case, Leptospirosis and Septicemic Plague. There are three types of plague bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.

Leptospirosis carries a 5 to 10 percent mortality rate when treated early, while 15 percent of plague victims can die from infection, according to the CDC.

These diseases can be contracted in the Bahamas when a shallow pool of water has collected in the same space where a rat urinated or died, then humans step into the water while wearing sandles or get their shoes saturated, as well as handling items moist with contaminated water to expose oneself to the disease.

The United States Centers for Disease Control warns American travelers that "missed or delayed diagnosis of leptospirosis is common, due to its non-specific clinical presentation and a low index of suspicion among healthcare providers in non-endemic areas."

While it is agreed, a new, modern, clean Straw Market is needed, that is not going to happen anytime soon. Minister of Public Works Dr. Earl Deveaux has said that the new government has terminated the $23 million contract the former administration signed with Woslee Dominion Construction company in February 2007 to construct a new straw market on Bay Street.


Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced in the House of Assembly last month that his government planned to terminate the contract. Dr. Deveaux has now said the contract has been terminated.

However, in recent weeks the government has begun to crack down on the thriving illegal drug trade in the Straw Market. They also began looking for illegal immigants running booths there. Locals knowingly rent booths to illegals from Central America and other Caribbean nations, for as much as $1200 per year.

This is the least of the problems there, with violent crime increasing. Officials have begun to discuss a "major" initiative aimed at addressing the increasing level of crime in The Bahamas, particularly following the recent spate of brutal murders in New Providence. There had been 47 murders from Jan to July 2007.

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