The World Health Organization will send an emergency team to help the Philippines fight a bacterial disease outbreak that has killed at least 148 people and sickened nearly 2,000 in and around the flood-hit capital, officials said Thursday.
Outbreaks of leptospirosis, spread by water contaminated with the urine of rats, dogs and other animals, have compounded the problems faced by the Philippines after back-to-back storms since late last month killed more than 900 people and devastated northern regions.
Yet another storm, Lupit, is hovering near the country's mountainous north, where army troops and disaster response officials have ferried tons of food aid and rubber boats and started evacuating villagers.
"The potential for crisis is still there," Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
1.3 million get antibiotics
In the disease outbreak, at least 148 have died and 1,963 people have been sickened in the capital, Manila, and outlying suburbs. Infections have also been reported in the nearby provinces of Rizal and Laguna, Duque said.
Government medical workers have given antibiotics to 1.3 million people as a preventive step, and the government has asked WHO and other foreign health agencies for help.
People are infected through exposed cuts and bruises. The disease can cause high fever, headache, sore muscles and vomiting. In extreme cases, it can lead to kidney failure and internal bleeding that can cause death.
Prolonged flooding can cause a "perfect storm of disease," including leptospirosis, dengue fever and cholera, according to Merlin, a medical aid group.
Flooding until Christmas possible
Floodwaters could linger up to Christmas in congested townships along the rim of swollen Laguna de Bay lake near the capital, local officials have said.
Many medical clinics have been swamped, hampering efforts to respond to ailments, Merlin said.
Merlin said one of its health experts visited flooded communities recently and saw children "swimming in contaminated floodwaters, contracting fungal infections."
Peter Cordingley, WHO spokesman for the Western Pacific region, said many communities remain flooded and the number of infections could continue to grow, though number of fresh cases reported in government hospitals has begun to drop as waters recede in some communities.
WHO has assembled an emergency response team "and they'll be here very soon," Cordingley told The Associated Press.