A deadly disease outbreak in Mindanao underlines vulnerability of typhoon-affected

A Philippine Red Cross water distribution point in Cagayan de Oro, Northern Mindanao. Typhoon Washi caused serious disruptions to the city's water supply, which is having an impact on local health.

An outbreak of the deadly bacteria Leptospirosis has highlighted the dramatic and ongoing needs of the tens of thousands of people in northern Mindanao who were displaced and affected by Typhoon Washi.

According to health authorities, 128 cases have been confirmed with a further 200 suspected. Four people have died. Leptospirosis is an infection caused by bacteria found in the urine of infected animals, especially rats. It typically infects humans through wounds or broken skin that comes in contact with contaminated flood water, vegetation, or moist soil.

It can cause headaches, muscle and eye pain, fevers and chills, and vomiting. In serious cases in can lead to meningitis, liver damage and jaundice, and renal failure.

Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said the outbreak highlighted how precarious the lives of many people in northern Mindanao were. "There are tens of thousands of people who have now spent two and a half weeks in crowded evacuation centres or ruined neighbourhoods," he said. "They have had only limited access to clean water and basic sanitation. They urgently need support."

The Philippine Red Cross has deployed health staff and mobilized additional volunteers and resources in an effort to help limit the outbreak. Supplies of the antibiotic Doxycycline – enough for 2,600 people – have been sent from Manila to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, along with health education materials that will form the centrepiece of a soon to be launched public health campaign.

In the days following Washi, the Philippine Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency international appeal for 2.63 million Swiss francs (USD 2.8 million, Euro 2.2 million). As the situation continues to unfold, and as the medium and long-term needs of those affected becomes clearer, it is likely that this figure will be revised and increased in the coming days.

Selva Sinnadurai, the IFRC's representative to the Philippines said: "This outbreak is the last thing that these people need. It reinforces how urgent it is that new accommodation is found for the families that have lost their homes. People need more space, and they need access to clean water and basic sanitation."

According to the UN, there is still about 36,000 families – approximately 180,000 people – living in evacuation centres. However, so far, only enough land to build temporary housing for 19,000 people has been secured.

Since Washi, the Philippine Red Cross has provided assistance to almost 90,000 people. Three water purifiers have provided 1,500 families with clean water. A further 197,000 litres of clean water has been distributed from water bladders provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 1,349 families have received information about sanitation and hygiene, and almost 4,500 families have received hygiene kits.

In addition, almost 89,5000 people have received food from the Red Cross and almost 36,600 people have been reached with basic but crucial relief supplies. Both these figures already far exceed the organization's initial targets.