EDITORIAL - Leptospirosis, another health risk

The Philippine Star

In compliance with health safety protocols, children and educators have kept their masks on to prevent COVID infection as face-to-face classes resumed beginning Monday.

Severe Tropical Storm Florita, which forced the suspension of classes in storm-hit areas including Metro Manila, should provide reminders on another public health risk that intensifies during heavy rain and flooding. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection transmitted through the urine of animals, particularly rodents, dogs and livestock.

Animals may carry the bacteria even if they are not infected. Humans catch the bacteria through the eyes, nose or mouth, and through cuts or cracks in the skin that are exposed to the animals’ urine. Floods can carry the urine. During the rainy season, infectious disease experts regularly sound the alarm about the risk of leptospirosis when wading through floods. People are advised to wear rubber boots and protect even minor skin cuts from exposure to polluted waters.

While leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, early treatment is critical. In previous massive floods particularly in densely populated urban centers such as Metro Manila, spikes in leptospirosis cases were recorded, with some infections requiring critical care hospitalization and even causing death.

Left untreated, leptospirosis can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and respiratory distress. Symptoms, which include fever and muscle aches, can take a few days to two weeks to be manifested. People particularly children who wade in polluted waters must be carefully monitored for possible symptoms.

The heightened alert for COVID symptoms should facilitate monitoring for possible leptospirosis infection. With classes starting, parents and teachers alike can monitor school children. The students themselves can be taught to watch out for specific symptoms so they can get proper diagnosis for timely treatment.

Prevention is critical. The image of that class being held last Monday in Macabebe, Pampanga, with students and their teacher having their feet in the floodwater without rubber boots, should raise concern among epidemiologists who are warning about leptospirosis infection.

In areas where floods subside slowly, including in the city of Manila, there is also heightened risk of stagnant water turning into breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus. Cleaning school surroundings and misting against mosquitoes must be intensified during the typhoon season. Dengue cases have surged this year as mobility restrictions were lifted, and unlike with COVID, most Filipinos are not vaccinated against the disease.

The government has taken the risk of resuming face-to-face classes after two years of blended learning. This move must not lead to a spike not only in COVID cases but also in other diseases.


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