Leptospirosis cases shoot up nationwide

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 2) — The Department of Health is alarmed by the rising number of leptospirosis cases nationwide as the country experiences frequent rains.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III blamed the heavy rains and improper garbage disposal for the spike in the number of cases of leptospirosis, an infection caused by a bacteria found in the urine of animals, such as rats.

"There is really causality between the extent of flooding that the metropolis has been experiencing and the increased lepto cases... at night or early morning, this is the time sewer rats- yung mga nasa imburnal na nakatirang mga daga -maglalabasan at diyan mag-iihi 'yang mga 'yan at magiging source ito ng infection," he said on Monday.

DOH has recorded 1,030 cases this year from January 1 to June 9. This is up 41 percent from the same period last year. What's more alarming is that 99 patients have died due to leptospirosis.

In Metro Manila, the numbers are even higher with 234 cases recorded by the DOH from January 1 to July 1. There was a 60-percent jump from the 146 cases recorded in the same period last year. 38 people in Metro Manila have died due to leptospirosis.

Topping the list of cities with the highest number of leptospirosis cases in Metro Manila is Quezon City with 87, followed by Manila, Taguig, Parañaque, Caloocan, Las Piñas, and Pasig.

Leptospirosis: Signs, symptoms, prevention

Humans can be infected if they come in contact with the water, soil, or food contaminated with the urine of the infected animal.

It's a misconception that leptospirosis can only come from the urine of infected rats, but CNN Philippines' "MedTalk HealthTalk" host Dr. Freddie Gomez said it can come from the urine of other infected animals.

"People have to be aware that it's not just rats - it can be stray cats, stray dogs and all of these animals. They're just not as prolific as rats. And it's not just floodwater they should be worried about, because you can be infected by leptospirosis year round," he said on Monday.

Symptoms of leptospirosis are high fever, headache, chills, vomiting, abdominal pain, and red eyes.

Gomez pointed out these symptoms are also common in other ailments, which is why patients have to tell their doctors they've been exposed to floodwaters.

"Let's say you were exposed to the bacteria, probably it can happen in as soon as two days, or latest probably around 7-10 days. So it's about two days to a week. You'll have immediate fever, you'll have a severe headache - a really bad headache. You might have nausea, you might have vomiting, you might even have a rash. If you study the symptoms, these are pretty common with other ailments," he said.

Duque said it is important to see a doctor if one experiences any of the symptoms soon after walking in the flood because leptospirosis can be deadly.

"Sa una pa lang, nagbaha. May lagnat. Punta na agad sa pinakamalapit na pagamutan... Mahihirapan po tayong salbahin ang sinuman na umabot sa malubhang kumplikasyon ang leptospirosis," he said.

But Gomez warned those infected with leptospirosis may not even have any of the mentioned symptoms.

"The thing about leptospirosis is that it's a two-phased kind of disease. Initially the patient will have the symptoms, they will get well and it'll come back. When it comes back, that's when the complications will set in - complications with the liver, you might have meningitis, your kidneys might be affected as well. And this is where it becomes bad. But majority of the cases of those infected with leptospirosis will go through it," he said.

As a precaution, the Health Secretary urged the public to see a doctor after they wade into floodwaters even if they don't have an open wound where the bacteria can enter. Gomez said the bacteria can also enter through the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Duque also heavily advised against self-medicating.

"Kung hindi maiwasan at nabaha, kinakailangang magpatingin na sa doktor. Hindi kayo pwedeng mag-self medicate dahil ang gamot na antibiotic kailangan ng reseta," he said.

DOH is giving medicine and other medical equipment to government hospitals to ensure they are prepared to handle the spike in leptospirosis cases.

CNN Philippines' intern Samantha Corrales contributed to this report.