A health scourge has emerged from the rains and floods brought about by the rainy season. On July 5, the Department of Health (DOH) declared an outbreak of leptospirosis in several barangays in seven cities in Metro Manila.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH went public because of the rising number of deaths due to the bacterial disease just over the past weeks.
Leptospirosis has been a problem the past years, averaging 76 cases annually. But the DOH recorded a spike from Jan. 1 to July 3 this year, with 368 cases in the National Capital Region (NCR), including 52 deaths.
Things became worse recently, with 105 cases reported from June 10 to July 3 — an uptick of 38 percent.
The national figures are alarming as well. Some 1,040 cases have been recorded nationwide, along with an estimated 99 deaths. That’s already a 41-percent increase from last year. Western Visayas tallied the most cases overall with 221; Metro Manila was fifth.
“These are already considered outbreaks because they have already breached the epidemic threshold, which means that the cases reported now in these cities and barangays have already gone past the average number for the last five years,” Duque said.
Leptospirosis (Leptospira spirochetes bacteria) is a nasty disease spawned by the urine and feces of infected animals such as rats, dogs, cattle and goats.
Humans get infected when the bacteria enters the body through open wounds, lesions, the mouth, nose and eyes. It is heralded by flu-like symptoms, spiking fever, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting and the yellowing of the skin, among others.
Without treatment, a person suffering from leptospirosis could die from organ failure and massive internal bleeding.
In the Philippines, it is usually spread by the urine of rats that people come into contact with because of floodwaters. On days of heavy rainfall when streets are inundated, many Filipinos end up sick with “lepto” from being forced to wade in the waters unprotected. They may also get the disease from eating contaminated food.
The flood of patients has already begun to overwhelm hospitals. GMA 7 reported that the fifth floor of the East Avenue Medical Center had to be converted into a ward to cope with the influx of leptospirosis cases.
Even the hospital’s lobby housed some of the overflow patients. The National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) also had to convert its basketball court into a ward for the same reasons.
The DOH has alerted all hospitals in Metro Manila to prepare for the arrival of more cases as the rainy season continues in earnest.
Hospitals will not only require more space for leptospirosis patients, but even more doctors and nurses. An additional P5 million has been allocated to the NKTI for its leptospirosis efforts.
Duque also called on the mayors of Metro Manila to battle leptospirosis by improving their garbage collection.
“We can help control rodent infestation if there is an adequate and efficient garbage collection system, which is a mandate of the local governments,” he said. “That is why we appeal [to mayors] to ensure that garbage is collected round the clock, if not with sufficient regularity, so that no garbage is left on the streets.”
Many of the “lepto” patients directly link their sickness to wading unprotected in floodwaters — so this is the first precaution to observe.
People should avoid puddles and flooded streets, and wading in water from runoff areas near unsanitary places such as garbage dumps and sewers. When traversing possibly contaminated areas, they should wear protective footwear and clothing.
And, if forced to come into contact with floodwater, they should immediately wash their feet and legs with clean water and soap. Disinfection is required immediately after contact, especially for those with open wounds. The DOH emphasizes that early and immediate treatment can prevent the disease from getting worse.
More rains will come in the next months; people need to do their part to protect themselves from the “lepto” outbreak. Only the highest level of personal and public vigilance can arrest the spread of this health scourge.
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