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October 27, 2009

Leptospirosis Cases in Luzon On The Rise

Due to the persistent floodwaters in the recently-storm-stricken Luzon, cases of Leptospirosis have been increasing in the areas. In fact, last October 16, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque declared an outbreak of leptospirosis in the barangays of Tumana, Malanday, and Concepcion I in Marikina, Metro Manila. As of October 17, the Department of Health has recorded a total of 1,665 leptospirosis cases and 104 deaths in 15 hospitals in Metro Manila. It is important therefore to know what is Leptospirosis and how one can get infected with this deadly disease.

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by a particular type of bacteria called a spirochete. Leptospirosis can be transmitted by many animals such as rats, skunks, opossums, raccoons, foxes, and other vermin. It is transmitted though contact with infected soil or water. The soil or water is contaminated with the waste products of an infected animal. People contract the disease by either ingesting contaminated food or water or by broken skin and mucous membrane (eyes, nose, sinuses, mouth) contact with the contaminated water or soil.

Leptospirosis symptoms begin from two to 25 days after initial direct exposure to the urine or tissue of an infected animal, usually rats.

The illness typically progresses through two phases: The first phase is made up of nonspecific flulike symptoms and the second phase begins after a few days of feeling well. The initial symptoms recur with fever and aching with stiffness of the neck. Some patients develop serious inflammation of the nerves to the eyes, brain, spinal column, or other nerves. Right upper area abdominal pain may occur. Less common symptoms relate to disease of the liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart.

The treatment of leptospirosis involves high doses of antibiotics. Antibiotic treatment such as doxycycline or penicillin is most effective when initiated early in the course of the illness. Mortality rates for severe illness with leptospirosis can range from 5%-40%, depending on the severity of organ dysfunction and the patient's general health prior to infection. Most previously healthy patients will make a full recovery. Foreigners traveling to places where the disease is endemic is usually advised to take prophylaxis. They can take 200 mg of doxycyline per week by mouth starting before and during the time period of potential exposure.

Prevention is still they key. People are advised not to wade in flood waters or at least wear protective gears such as boots.

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