Leptospirosis Outbreak Follows Flooding in Philippines

The Philippines is dealing with an outbreak of leptospirosis following a December tropical storm and flooding, the worst to hit the area in three years.

Cagayan de Oro, the capital city of Misamis Oriental province on the island of Mindanao, was hit by Tropical Storm Washi on December 17. The storm and subsequent flooding reportedly killed 1,257 people and displaced more than 300,000 others. Nearly 180,000 of the displaced are staying in crowded evacuation centers, with the rest in makeshift shelters or host families.

Among the flooding and evacuation, health authorities reported at least 171 people are receiving treatment for leptospirosis, as well as five deaths due to the disease. With crowded conditions, poor sanitation, lack of clean water, and a forecast of continued rain, more disease outbreaks may be on the way.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is transmitted to humans through contact with the urine of infected animals, often contained in surface water. The bacteria usually enter the body through the mouth, nose, eyes, or through cuts and abrasions of the skin. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, chills, redness of eyes, jaundice, hemorrhages in the skin/mucous membranes, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. If not treated with appropriate antibiotics, leptospirosis can become quite severe and even potentially fatal. Because the infected urine is often transmitted via fresh water, cases tend to peak during rainy seasons or floods.

To help the Philippines recover from the flood and subsequent disease outbreak, the United Nations has called on the international community for $28.6 million in aid; however, with many donor agencies closed over the holidays, response has been slow.

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