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Leptospirosis, other diseases hound flood victims

October 14, 2009 4:01pm
At the height of tropical storm “Ondoy," 24-year-old Gerald Samson braved the floods to save his neighbors from drowning in the murky floodwaters of Santolan, Pasig City. Little did he know that his selfless act would eventually cost him his precious health.

In an interview with GMA News' John Consulta, Samson, who saved the lives of at least 15 people, turned to the camera and begged for rescue. Doctors at the Rizal Medical Center said he is infected with leptospirosis and is already in critical condition.

"Pag-rescue ho tumama yung paa ko sa yero. Sana ho tulungan nila ako kung naririnig nila ako," said Samson, struggling to make his appeal.

The mother of Anton Gonzales could not help but get emotional when she talked about how her 21-year-old son suffers from the disease. “Sobrang hirap talaga. Sana ho ako nalang nandyan eh. Hindi ko kayang tingnan ng ganyan," she said.

Samson and Gonzales are only two of the hundreds of patients downed by leptospirosis, a disease usually caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. In humans it causes a wide range of symptoms, and some infected persons may exhibit no symptoms at all.

According to the Department of Health, at least 28 people have already succumbed to leptospirosis this year. About 812 cases have also been recorded from January to October 11. Of these, 375 are from Metro Manila. [See: DOH braces for further rise in leptospirosis cases]



According to the Medical City hospital in Pasig, it is experiencing shortage of rooms because of the sudden increase in the number of leptospirosis cases. The Medical City is one of the top hospitals in the country.

LEPTOSPIROSIS 101

Leptospirosis

• a bacterial infection caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called leptospira
• occurs through direct contact with the urine of infected animals or by contact with a urine-contaminated environment such as surface water, floodwater, soil, and plants
• affects both humans and animals
• leptospira have been found in rats, insectivores, dogs, cats, cattle, pigs and horses
• bacteria enter through broken skins, through eyes, nose or mouth exposed to contaminated water although less frequently through animal bites, handling infected animal tissues or swallowing contaminated food or water
• an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors or with animals, such as rice and sugar-cane field workers, farmers, sewer workers, veterinarians, dairy workers and military personnel
• a recreational hazard to those who swim or wade in contaminated waters. In endemic areas the number of leptospirosis cases may peak during the rainy season and even may reach epidemic proportions in case of flooding.

SYMPTOMS

Incubation period for the bacteria lasts 7 to 12 days. During this period, the following symptoms may be felt (although sometimes it can also be asymptomatic):

• high fever
• severe headache
• chills
• muscle pain
• vomiting
• jaundice
• redness in the eyes
• abdominal pain
• hemorrhages in skin and mucous membranes (including pulmonary bleeding)
• diarrhea
• rash

However, if these aren't treated, they may develop into kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory distress.

PREVENTION

• reduce the rat population with the destruction of their habitats -- maintain a clean home
• avoid immersion in natural waters such as rivers, lakes and canals
• avoid immersion in floods
• use protective footwear or clothing when immersion to natural waters or floods is inevitable
• provide clean drinking water

Source: GMA News Research, Department of Health, World Health Organization

Maria Fe Raymundo-Tayzon, head of the hospital’s infectious disease center, told GMA News' Claire Delfin in an interview that it is necessary for all government agencies concerned to work together to resolve the problem.

From October 8 to 13, the hospital has already admitted 93 cases, some coming from Marikina, one of the heavily submerged cities at the height of “Ondoy."

Most of the patients are male whose ages range from 31 to 40. The report said many of them have waded through the floods during the storm. [See: DOH in Cagayan Valley braces for leptospirosis outbreak]

Other threats

Apart from the threat of leptospirosis, flooding victims are also in danger of acquiring diarrhea, cholera, Influenza A(H1N1), and dengue.

In Pasig City Elementary School, GMA News’ Trisha Zafra reported that a lot of children ages two and below are infected with diarrhea due to contaminated tap water.

DOH Epidemiology Center chief Eric Tayag assured that that the government is now monitoring cases of diarrhea and cholera due to the possibility that their drinking water may be contaminated.

He also said that the government is coming up with solutions for the increasing leptospirosis cases in the country.

Nonetheless, he said it is also important for evacuees to take necessary precautions. He advised residents wading in floodwaters to see a doctor immediately when they encounter symptoms such as chills, red eyes or yellow skin, and not to wait until it is too late.

"Ang dumating na pasyente doon may renal failure na, kailangan dialysis. Isa lang ibig sabihin nito, huli na nang nagpatingin ang kababayan natin (Patients who went to us turned out to have renal failure. It turned out they sought medical attention too late)," he said.

He also said residents should boil their drinking water or at least use a chlorine solution to stave off diseases from contaminated water, such as diarrhea and cholera.

On the other hand, Tayag warned residents the stagnant water can also bring about the killer disease dengue.

He also advised those in evacuation centers to practice good hygiene and treat their surroundings like their own homes.

As of Oct. 13, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said 45,129 families or 216,941 people displaced by storm Ondoy are staying in 443 evacuation centers mostly in Metro Manila and the provinces of Rizal and Laguna.
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Of those affected by typhoon Pepeng, 16,583 families or 80,262 people are still in 245 evacuation centers mostly in northern and central Luzon. - GMANews.TV
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