Flood-related health problemsBy Rafael Castillo M.D.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The massive downpour earlier this week will certainly not be the last. Now, we realize that people who have been telling us the dire consequences of climate change more than 10 years ago were not shouting “wolf” without basis.
Our country is particularly prone to typhoons and other natural disasters. We have both extremes of weather conditions. We have scores of typhoons entering the country annually, resulting in massive floods. But we also have our share of droughts and extreme periods of dry weather.
On top of that, we have volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides. Hence, according to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Some also call it the welcome mat of typhoons and strong monsoon rains in Asia.
Since having more storms, rains and floods is already a reality that we can no longer change at this point, we just have to live with them, and be prepared for them, so we can alleviate the harm they can cause us.
To be forewarned is to be prepared, so the wise say. I just realized this week the value of the mobile phone application launched by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) last year and which anyone can download and avail himself/herself of for free.
Aptly named Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), it provides real-time information on rainfall and flooding to the public. One gets updated information and advisories on the likelihood of inclement weather conditions in various areas in the country. Information on landslides, severe flooding and intensity of expected rain showers in specific areas can also be obtained.
All one needs is a smartphone, which I think at least one member of each Filipino family has. Internet connection may be a problem for some, but with WiFi access being ubiquitous, I’m sure anyone can be resourceful enough to get a connection.
Info on rainfall probability
According to project director Raymund Liboro, Noah uses sensors, rain gauges and weather monitoring systems installed by the government in various parts of the country, and it can be relied upon to provide information on rainfall probability over the next one to four hours in 200 sites. The public can get real-time information on water levels, and a good overview of which areas are affected by rain and humidity.
One can log on to the Noah website for these information, but one can also easily access them using a mobile phone.
Sharing options across different social media is also now available, and one may access tweets sent out by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration as text messages to any mobile phone, explained Liboro.
One can get really valuable information from this mobile application called Noah, which can turn out to be lifesaving for some people. We commend the DOST for this program, and we should have more similar programs which can enhance disaster preparedness of the public.
After the massive rains and floods, diseases like gastroenteritis, dengue, leptospirosis and many more water-related diseases can’t be far away. So the public has to take special precautions to avoid getting these.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and our Department of Health (DOH) warn the public that during flooding, drinking water systems can become contaminated with sewage and graywater. So during floods, it’s safer to take only bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth and cleaning vegetables and fruits that will be eaten raw.
As an alternative, tap water may be boiled; the WHO defines proper boiling as bringing the water to boiling point (having bubbles and lots of steam) and boiling it for 20 minutes. Once the water cools down, it should be filtered using a commercial filter before drinking.
Dengue is well-known by the public and everyone knows the important avoidance measure that has to be taken—getting rid of all possible sources of stagnant water like empty cans, jars and tires. The DOH also provides for free a simple device called Ovi trap, which attracts the female Aedes aegypti (mosquito vector) to lay eggs in it, and traps all the larvae as they emerge to become adult mosquitos. Each household should have several of these and deploy them in their backyards.
Leptospirosis, which is another flood-borne disease, is not as well-known as dengue. It is a rare but potentially fatal infection caused by the Leptospira bacteria which can be found in water that has been contaminated by animal, particularly rat, urine. It enters the body through the eyes, nose, mouth and cuts on the skin.
Many parts of the Philippines including Metro Manila are now considered endemic for leptospirosis during times like this. Outbreaks of leptospirosis have been reported during previous floods. So unless unavoidable, one should not wade in flood water; if unavoidable one should immediately wash and disinfect one’s exposed body parts with alcohol. Boots should be worn to avoid direct contact with flood water. Gloves should also be worn when cleaning the premises after the flood subsides.
Swimming in flood water, which many children and even adults enjoy doing, is pure foolishness. Local barangay officials should take it upon themselves to stop their constituents from doing this.
The WHO and the DOH advise that those who have open cuts immersed in the flood water for a long period of time should immediately contact their doctor and ask if taking doxycycline (an antibiotic) can help for prophylaxis. It should be taken soon after exposure.
One should not take doxycycline for prophylaxis without doctor’s advice since it also has some side effects.
Most people recover from a bout of leptospirosis but many also develop kidney failure and need to be dialyzed to recover. Some can have serious complications and die from it.
It’s best to be diagnosed and treated early enough before complications set in. Blood tests for leptospirosis are already available in the Philippines. Early treatment saves lives. If one has flu-like symptoms a few days after being exposed to flood water, one should consult one’s family physician immediately.
Damage to property is bad news when we have floods. But harm to one’s health is the worst news that one doesn’t want to happen every time the typhoons and monsoon rains come.
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