MANILA - The Philippines' outbreak of leptospirosis is one of the world's biggest although the Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday said fewer people are falling sick from the bacterial infection.
DOH National Epidemiology Center chief Dr. Eric Tayag told Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG) on Thursday that from October 1-15, a total of 1,887 leptospirosis cases were reported in 15 hospitals in Metro Manila, with 138 deaths.
"We are monitoring San Lazaro Hospital right now where leptospirosis cases reported daily have gone down from 40 to 14. Most of the cases are from Metro Manila and Rizal," he said.
He said other areas that were not affected by typhoons Ondoy (Ketsana) and Pepeng are also reporting cases of leptospirosis.
Tayag said the outbreak of leptospirosis prompted Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to issue a distress call for help from the international community to address the problem.
“We have also ready sent an SOS to the international community because this is the one of the biggest outbreaks not just in the Philippines but in the world,” he said Wednesday in a Senate committee hearing investigating the health impact of the two typhoons that ravaged Metro Manila and the provinces of Northern Luzon in the last four weeks.
Seawater kills bacteria
Tayag said the DOH will spray seawater in areas that were most affected by the disease outbreak. He said foreign research showed that the leptospira bacterium, which comes from the urine of infected animals, usually dies when exposed to salt water or direct sunlight.
The DOH earlier identified the critical areas in Marikina City with eight barangays, Parañaque City with six barangays; Pasig City and Taguig with five each; Muntinlupa City, Makati City and Pasay City with three each; Caloocan City and Quezon City with two each, and San Juan with the town of Navotas with one each.
He said the country will be sending samples of the leptospira bacterium to the World Health Organization to identify the particular strain of leptospirosis prevalent in the country and what type of vaccine should be used.
Health authorities earlier advised the public not to wade in flood waters and to use protective clothing in order to prevent flood-borne diseases like leptospirosis, typhoid fever, cholera, and hepatitis. Duque also urged local government units to ensure that evacuation centers and areas affected by floods are clean.
He added that all citizens should practice proper handwashing and thoroughly clean their surroundings, especially watery areas where mosquitoes and bacteria can thrive. This is to prevent against the spread of typhoid and cholera, and to prevent water contamination.
The DOH had launched its prophylaxis program last week, with the aim of distributing 4 million antibiotics and prophylactic medicines (medicines that can prevent the onset of a disease) in typhoon-affected areas.
The program will run for 10 weeks, and will cost the DOH P40 million.
On Tuesday, the health bureau received 60 boxes of prophylactic medicines at their warehouse. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer also donated P1 million worth of medicines for leptospirosis.
According to Duque, these will be distributed to over 1.3 million patients in the National Capital Region, Laguna province, and Rizal province.
The warehouse also has stocks of ointments for skin ailments like athlete's foot and eczema, which have spread in evacuation centers after victims were exposed to dirty flood waters and bacteria.