Disease outbreak in wake of floods in the Philippines

MANILA — Doctors from the World Health Organization began arriving in Manila on Oct. 25 to help local authorities battle an outbreak of leptospirosis, a deadly byproduct of the recent flooding in the Philippine capital and surrounding provinces.

Nearly four weeks since Tropical Storm Ketsana flooded 80 percent of the capital, many parts of the metropolis of 14 million people are still inundated with water that is not expected to go down for three to six months.

Health authorities worry about a second outbreak of the disease, which had killed 162 people as Oct. 25.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said a request to the WHO was made last week for help to curb the spread of leptospirosis, a bacteria carried in water contaminated with the urine of animals, rats in particular.

“While the number of cases has peaked, we fear there could be a second outbreak as many parts of the capital are still flooded,” he said.

“We need help from experts as this is one of the biggest outbreaks not just in the Philippines, but in the world,” said Eric Tayag, head of the government’s National Epidemiological Center. He spoke to The National, an English newspaper in the United Arab Emirates.

Since the storm hit on Sept. 26 more than 2,089 people have been treated for the bacterial infection in Manila and surrounding provinces and 162 people have died – more than five times the number of leptosipirosis deaths in the entire country last year, according to the epidemiology centre.

In 2008 there were 246 cases nationwide and 31 deaths from leptospirosis.