The Philippines Department of Health (DOH) this week advised the public to watch out for symptoms of leptospirosis if they have been wading in floodwaters these past few, rainy days. The sudden downpour several days this week has flooded many low-lying areas in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

Image/Philippines DOH
Image/Philippines DOH

“We can prevent complications of leptospirosis when its flu-like symptoms are recognized early and treated immediately. My advice to those who had to wade in the flood these past few days is to be alert for any symptom and to seek early consultation,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III declared.

Health officials say there were 1,030 cases of leptospirosis reported nationwide to the DOH from January 1 to June 9 this year, which is 41% higher than the number recorded during the same period last year. Of this number, 339 were laboratory-tested and 77 turned positive for leptospirosis. There were 93 deaths recorded.

Ages of the 1,030 cases ranged from one to 88 years. Majority (872 or 85%) were males. Most of the cases came from Western Visayas (221), Caraga (162), and Region XI (86).Leptospirosis is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Leptospira interrogans, is often referred to as “rat fever” due to the principal role rats play in spreading the disease (scientists refer this type of animal as a reservoir host).  Other animals can also be important reservoirs of the disease.

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These animals can spread the disease in their urine, contaminating water, soil, or food.  People who live in close contact with domestic animals or wildlife are at higher risk for getting the disease.

People become infected by coming into contact with contaminated urine, water, food, or soil through breaks in the skin, eyes, mouth, or nose. Outbreaks of leptospirosis are usually caused by exposure to contaminated water, such as floodwaters. Person to person transmission is rare.

Infected individuals initially experience fever, severe headache and muscle aches, abdominal pain, and occasionally a skin rash. Patients in the later stages of disease can suffer from jaundice, kidney failure, bleeding from the mouth or nose, bloody urine and can be fatal, especially without proper treatment.