THINK ON THESE: Watch out for leptospirosis!

When it rains, it pours. Since it’s the rainy season already, expect more rain coming.

When there’s rain in places where rats abound, the health threat that most people will encounter is leptospirosis. However, this water-borne disease is more common after an area is flooded. That’s why the Department of Health (DOH) generally advises the public not to wade in floodwaters or to wear rubber boats when walking in flooded waters.

A news report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer said there was “an increase in leptospirosis cases amid the onset of the rainy season.”

Right now, the total number stands at 878, with 84 confirmed deaths. “While this is only half of the number of leptospirosis cases (1,769) in the same period last year, the DOH has observed that the weekly case count has started rising with the rains,” the health department was quoted as saying.

In Davao Region, even before the rainy season, the number of leptospirosis cases went up as early as January. The regional office of the health department recorded 34 cases with two deaths from January 1 to 27, which was 48% higher compared to the 23 cases reported in the same period last year.

Among those with the highest number of cases were from Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte. Both of these provinces had one thing in common: they were hit hard by flooding and landslides.

Leptospirosis, as a disease, was first described by Adolf Weil in 1886. Leptospira, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium that caused the disease, was first observed in 1907 but it was the following year that it was declared as the cause of it.

Several species of the Leptospira genus of bacteria cause leptospirosis. It can progress to conditions such as Weil’s disease or meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord), which can be fatal.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) says the bacterial infection is prevalent in tropical countries, where it affects 10 or more people in every 100,000 annually.

“Leptospirosis occurs in many wild and domestic animals,” explains The Merck Manual of Medical Information. “Some animals act as carriers and pass the bacteria in their urine; others become ill and die.”

The health department says many animals can spread leptospirosis, including pets (dogs, for example), farm animals, or wildlife. Aside from rats, the animals that can spread leptospirosis are cattle, swine, horses, sheep, and goats.

Actually, there are two common ways you can get leptospirosis. First is by exposing yourself to urine or body fluids of infected animals. The other one is by drinking water that has been contaminated with urine or body fluids of infected animals.

There was this incident which happened in Texas, United States. A woman went boating one Sunday taking with her some cans of soft drinks which she put into the refrigerator of the boat.

On Monday, she was taken to the hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit. She died on Wednesday. The autopsy concluded she died of leptospirosis. This was traced to the can of soft drink she drank from, not using a glass. Tests showed that the can was infected by dried rat urine.

“It is highly recommended to thoroughly wash the upper part of all soft drink cans before drinking out of them,” the news report stated. “The cans are typically stocked in warehouses and transported straight to the shops without being cleaned. A study at New York City University showed that the tops of all soda cans are more contaminated than public toilets, that is, full of germs and bacteria.”

According to the health department, leptospirosis bacteria enter the human body through cuts and cracks on the skin, or through membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can reach all parts of the body and cause signs and symptoms of illness.

Studies conducted abroad have shown that leptospirosis causes mild disease in about 90% of infected people, whereas 10% have severe, potentially fatal, disease that affects many organs.

Leptospirosis is not spread from human to human, the health department says. If you are either residing in a flooded area or have high-risk exposure (wading in flood waters, swimming in flood water or ingestion of contaminated water with or without cuts or wounds), DOH suggests that you should see a doctor immediately.

“Early recognition and treatment within two days of illness to prevent complications of leptospirosis, so early consultation is advised,” the health department urges.

Only a doctor can confirm the diagnosis of leptospirosis. The doctor does this by identifying Leptospira in cultures of blood, urine, or cerebrospinal fluid samples or, more commonly, by detecting antibodies against the bacteria in the blood.

“Once your doctor has confirmed that your symptoms are that of leptospirosis and by doing a test,” the health department states, “you should be treated with antibiotics. Treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible.”

Patients with severe leptospirosis will need to spend time in the hospital. They will receive antibiotics intravenously. Health experts said that depending on which organs leptospirosis affects, the individual may need a ventilator to help them breathe.

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