Before the pandemic hit, there was first an epidemic in the Philippines. From January to July 2019, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 146,062 dengue cases in the country—98% higher than that of the previous year. Because of this spike in cases and 622 deaths, a national dengue epidemic was declared to better mitigate both the causes and effects of the disease.
Dengue wreaks the worst havoc during the rainy season, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. With the country frequently experiencing monsoon rains and about 20 tropical cyclones a year, DOH introduced its health campaign against WILD Diseases—an acronym for common illnesses during the rainy season.
Photo from DOH Bicol’s Facebook page
W IS FOR WATER-BORNE DISEASES.
According to Dr. Lionel Peters, a public health physician, water-borne and foot diseases are caused by the ingestion of contaminated water or food. Examples of these diseases include:
- typhoid fever
- acute gastroenteritis characterized by diarrhea and frequent vomiting
- dysentery or bloody diarrhea
- Hepatitis A, a liver infection caused by the hepatitis virus
“Water-borne diseases are usually bacterial or viral,” said Dr. Peters. “Diarrhea is its most common symptom, but patients can also experience fever, muscle pain and vomiting.” These illnesses are widespread during the rainy season, which compromises sanitation and access to safe drinking water.
Dr. Peters, also a doctor to the barrios, has seen first-hand how these diseases affect Filipinos living in remote areas. “There are so many places where people don’t have sanitation facilities and toilets. This system makes it easy for human waste to contaminate water sources, which is how people get sick. Water-borne diseases can kill through dehydration, especially among children and those with an weak immune system.”
During the rainy season, Dr. Peters and his team make it a point to visit barangays to remind residents to do the following:
- Boil water before drinking. Those living in remote places rely on wells for water. But during the rainy season, the run-off water from the mountains which may carry human and animal wastes end up in wells. To ensure clean drinking water, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommends filtering cloudy water through a clean cloth or paper towel before bringing it a roiling boil for 3 minutes.
- Frequently wash hands. “Hand washing is one of the best measures against disease. Proper hand sanitation is the key, as well as the proper sanitation of the body,” said Dr. Peters.
- Practice proper food handling and storage. Wash hands before touching food, and always store food in clean containers. To prevent food spoilage, cook only what you can consume immediately. This is especially advisable in places without refrigeration.
- Maintain clean surroundings. This minimizes food and water contamination, and discourages pests which may carry diseases.
I IS FOR INFLUENZA-LIKE ILLNESS.
Aileen Espiritu, program manager of the DOH’s National Aedes-Borne Viral Disease Prevention and Control, stated that influenza-like illnesses are lung diseases caused by the influenza or flu virus.
Because flu symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19, Espiritu offered this guide:
|Symptoms appear 1-5 days after exposure to the virus.||Symptoms appear after 5 days or more after exposure to the virus.|
|Its main symptom is severe coughing. This may be accompanied by fever and symptoms, which last for 1-7 days.||Usual symptoms include fever, cough, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and the possible loss of taste and smell.|
|Flu can lead to complications like bronchitis and lung infection. It may be fatal.||According to WebMD, those with both COVID-19 and comorbidities may end up with pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, acute cardiac injury and many others. COVID-19 may be fatal.|
Because flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, Espiritu recommended taking the RT-PCR test for COVID-19 to determine the disease. “To ensure our safety and that of our loved ones, we should always remember to quarantine or isolate ourselves while waiting for our swab test results,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. “This prevents us from spreading the virus.”
Leptospirosis is prevalent in urban places. (photo by Jilson Tiu/Greenpeace)
L IS FOR LEPTOSPIROSIS
According to Dr. Peters, leptospirosis is caused by bacteria found in animal urine, particularly from rats. “When we cross a flooded area contaminated with rat urine and we have wounds or a break in the skin, the bacteria can enter our bodies and cause infection.” The most common symptom of leptospirosis is fever. “So, if you have fever two days after your flood exposure, consult a doctor right away. We want to keep the infection from progressing and causing complications.”
Complications, which include kidney failure may cause death. Dr. Peters stated the other common symptoms of leptospirosis aside from fever:
- muscle ache
- body pain
- severe headache
- eye redness
- abdominal pain
- vomiting and diarrhea
“The best way to avoid leptospirosis is to avoid flood exposure, especially if you have wounds and skin breaks. Preventive measures include preparedness. If you live in a flood-prone area, make sure you’re protected. Even before the rainy season comes, invest in rain boots and protective clothing to prevent flood water from touching your skin,” said Dr. Peters. He added that leptospirosis is rampant in urban areas. This is why children should not be allowed playing in flood water.
D IS FOR DENGUE.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dengue “is transmitted by female mosquitoes mainly of the species Aedes aegypti.” Though dengue is at its peak during the rainy season, Espiritu said it is present any time of the year. “When the rains come from July to October, the mosquitoes’ breeding sites multiply. The dengue-carrying mosquitoes prefer dark places with stagnant water.”
Like the other WILD diseases, an early medical consultation is vital to prevent dengue from worsening. “If you’ve had fever for 2-7 days and experiencing at least two of its symptoms, set an appointment with a doctor right away,” advised Espiritu. She shared the following dengue symptoms:
- Feeling of being weak
- Muscle and joint pain
- Pain at the back of the eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Red or itchy skin
From the declaration of the National Dengue Epidemic in 2019, DOH data showed that there was an 81% decrease in dengue cases and deaths in 2020. Espiritu largely attributed this success to the enhancement of DOH’s 4S strategy.
Photo from DOH Bicol’s Facebook page
- Search and destroy mosquito-breeding sites.
Anything that holds stagnant water inside and outside your homes should be emptied regularly. These include tire tubes, basins and flower vases. “If you have to store water because of water interruptions, make sure that your containers have lids so mosquitoes can’t use them as breeding places,” Espiritu said. “Make sure your surroundings are clean. Recycle or dispose of containers in and outside your homes so they won’t catch rain water.”
Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and insect repellent to ward off mosquito bites.
- Seek early consultation.
Early prevention prevents dengue or any other disease from escalating. “We understand that many of us hesitate to go to clinics or hospitals because of COVID-19. But we have tele-consultations wherein doctors can advise you on your illness.
- Support fogging or spraying.
According to DOH, this is “only done in hotspot areas in anticipation of increased infectious diseases, especially during the rainy season.”
Recently, two barangays in South Cotabato were placed under a state of calamity due to the dengue. But Espiritu assured the public that the declaration was a proactive measure to contain and prevent the further spread of the disease. “Our health development centers and local government units (LGUs) immediately acted on the issue. We do our vectors surveillance and fogging operations, which have 3 to 4 cycles every 7 days. We do targeted indoor and outdoor residual spraying that have 3 cycles every 4 months. We also give NS1 antigen tests among suspected dengue cases.” Espiritu added that the 4S strategy is carried out as a “4 p.m. habit” since it is at this time when dengue-causing mosquitoes are most active.
Since 2019, Espiritu said that fast lanes for dengue patients have been established in health facilities. As to the fear of contracting COVID-19 through mosquito bites, Espiritu explained, “According to WHO and CDC, COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites.”
How to stay healthy during the rainy season
As Espiritu said, it is doubly difficult to get sick during the pandemic. The adage stays true: Prevention is better than cure. “We can avoid these diseases with simple measures,” she said. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Getting enough rest
- Boiling water from the faucet before drinking
- Consulting a doctor when feeling sick
- Being informed about the diseases
- Keeping your surroundings clean
- Following health protocols against COVID-19
The WILD diseases may be virulent, but as Dr. Peters put it, “They can be easily prevented if we are alert and armed with the right information.” Meanwhile, Espiritu stressed the importance of being responsible for our own health. “We should prioritize our health, so we can be productive citizens. Being healthy also means protecting our loved ones.”