DOH: No leptospirosis outbreak yet, but hospitals 'now ready' to treat cases

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Hospitals are now equipped to treat multiple cases of leptospirosis, however, DOH said the disease has not infected enough people to declare an outbreak yet. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 4) — Local hospitals are now prepared to tend to a spike in cases of leptospirosis in the country, but the current situation does not yet warrant a declaration of an outbreak of the disease, a health officials said Wednesday.

Department of Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo assured the public that there will be available facilities to accommodate the surge in the number of patients suffering from leptospirosis, an infection caused by a bacteria found in the urine of animals, such as rats.

There is usually an increase in leptospirosis cases during the rainy season, with people contracting the disease after wading through floodwater laden with rat urine.

Domingo added that they will look into the areas with a concentrated number of cases to determine if the water there is ridden with the bacteria causing the disease.

"Our hospitals are now ready…We're really trying to identify the areas with clustering number of cases…We're not keen on calling it an outbreak yet because there are certain criteria but if you have clustering cases at least you know the water there might be infected," Domingo told CNN Philippines' New Day.

Domingo said the health department seeks to diagnose and treat all cases of leptospirosis and regarded the rising number of patients visiting hospitals after identified symptoms as a good sign that patients are being treated ahead of possible complications.

"I think kasi ngayon alam na nila na 'pag may nararamdaman magpapatingin [I think now that they know that when people feel strange, they get a check-up] so we're getting more cases but we really want to get all of them to be diagnosed and treated and hopefully when people listen to tv and listen to radio and they're getting the information, then the more cases we get, I think that would be better that means we're diagnosing them early," he said.

Health Secretary Francis Duque, after inspecting different facilities following the spike in leptospirosis cases, said the number of cases for the year should be higher than those recorded in the last five years, before an outbreak is declared.

Domingo echoed Duque's statement and said the DOH must observe the number of cases for weeks and compare it to the numbers of the same period last year before determining an outbreak of leptospirosis.

"We have to set a certain number na titingnan natin [that we will observe] for the next few weeks so you need to have an increasing number, and then you compare it about the same time last year if you have a significant increase," Domingo said.

DOH is more prompt in declaring outbreaks in transmissible diseases, Domingo also said, and because leptospirosis cannot be contracted from other patients, it will prioritize identifying the most affected areas to quickly resolve the issue.

"Lepto is not like any other illness like measles…mas mabilis kasi kayo magrespond sa outbreak na yun kasi [we are quicker to respond in that outbreak because] you can transmit it from person-to-person. Fortunately, the leptospirosis, you cannot get it from another person so we only need to identify yung clustering, so we can give the antibiotics in that area and make sure that everybody's protected," he clarified.

Based on the latest data from DOH, 1,040 cases have been recorded nationwide from January 1 to June 16. This figure is 34 percent higher than the number of cases reported in the same period last year.

In Metro Manila, there have been 261 cases of leptospirosis recorded from January 1 to July 1, and 40 of the patients died.

CNN Philippines' "MedTalk HealthTalk" host Doctor Freddie Gomez said the government is taking precautions in making announcements because significant changes will be implemented once an outbreak is declared.

"We want to be careful on not mis-proclaiming a place as an outbreak because the treatment strategy changes. If one area is considered an outbreak in a certain area, we try to we give more prophylactic treatment so the scenario changes," Gomez said.

The World Health Organization said the leptospirosis bacteria enters the body through cuts or abrasions on the skin, or through the mucuous membranes of the mouth, nose and eyes. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, chills, redness of the eyes, abdominal pain, jaundice, hemorrhages in the skin and mucous membranes, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash, WHO added.

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.