POSTSCRIPT / October 18, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Beware of new strain called ‘kleptospirosis’

OVERLAPPING SIGNS: Leptospirosis is the subject of one of those enduring urban legends, unsubstantiated tales spread via email recklessly forwarded in the Internet.

Thus reminded of the perils of creative reporting, I now suggest the double checking of local cases of supposed leptospirosis, a disease contracted after exposure to water, food or soil containing urine from infected rats and other animals.

Note that the symptoms of leptospirosis — including high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, abdominal pain and vomiting — are similar to those of other diseases or ailments that appear in the kind of weather we are having lately.

The overlapping of common symptoms could be tricky for the unwary and the lazy.

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MISDIAGNOSIS: With leptospirosis widely reported in flood areas, some doctors attending to evacuees might readily attribute the symptoms to the bacterial disease, then add the patients to the lepto statistics and immediately treat them for it.

The usual medicine prescribed is antibiotic, such as doxycycline or penicillin, which could be effective for other infections with similar symptoms. The wrong diagnosis (if it was such) could thus pass unverified.

Of the hundreds of cases reported, how many actually had their blood or urine tested for bacteria of the genus Leptospira that cause the sickness? Was the first and only diagnosis based solely, and hurriedly, on the outward symptoms?

Somebody has to confirm that all those on the list are really leptospirosis cases.

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KLEPTOSPIROSIS: The leptospirosis urban legend mentioned in my opening paragraph has been circulating in cyberspace since October 1998. The story, told in various versions, was never verified or substantiated by those forwarding it.

One edition: “Whenever you buy a can of coke or whatever, make sure you wash the top with running water and soap or, if not available, drink it with a straw. (So-and-so) died after drinking a can of soda! Apparently, she didn’t clean the top before drinking from the can. The top was encrusted with dried rat’s urine which is toxic and obviously lethal! Canned drinks and other foodstuff are stored in warehouses and containers that are usually infested with rodents and then get transported to the retail outlets without being properly cleaned. Pass on!”

A local variation from our colleague NonnieP (whose house at Roxas District in Quezon City, btw, was swamped by storm Ondoy’s floodwaters up to their second floor) goes:

“Some evacuees given temporary haven in Malacanang reportedly went home fearing contamination with KLEPTOSPIROSIS, a disease manifested in the compulsive pocketing of things of megavalue, such as bribes, commissions and public funds.”

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UNSTEADY HAND: In the Senate, one listens in horror to the testimony of dam managers and executives of the National Power Corp., upon whose judgment rests the crucial decision of when and how to release impounded water from the dams.

Their unsteady hand is poised on the lever that could unleash death and destruction on communities downstream — as had happened in the recent flooding in Central and Northern Luzon that killed hundreds and destroyed properties worth billions of pesos.

Their testimony and buck-passing gave the impression they think that dam water is released only when the reservoir is dangerously full, and that that is done mainly to save the structure from collapse.

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TOKEN WARNING: From their dry perch, the officials’ only concession to saving human lives is for them to ring an alarum bell and alert local officials of the impending release of the death-dealing deluge.

From then on, it is supposed to be the sole responsibility of everybody down below to hurriedly gather their brood and prized possessions and run for their lives.

It is clear that some officials have to pay very dearly for the flood-related tragedy. But knowing how the notion of accountability has gone with the wind and how cheap human lives have become in this country, that would be expecting too much.

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PREEMPTIVE RELEASE: We have learned a lot from reader Marcial T. Ocampo, part of whose treatise on dam management we used in our Postscript last Thursday. (He has proceeded to send materials to a wider public, including government officials.)

One thing that stands out in my mind is that during the typhoon season, a dam manager does not wait for heavy rains having in mind mainly the filling to the brim of his reservoir for irrigation and hydropower-generation.

With days of rain predicted to deliver large volumes of water anyway, a wise preemptive step is to release in advance the impounded water at a regulated safe rate before the typhoon blows in.

This (1) prepares the communities downstream for the gradual rise in the level of the waterways running through them, and (2) leaves ample space in the reservoir to catch and neutralize the rainwater expected to be dumped on the watershed.

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BARGAIN ALERT!: Another thing we should watch is a sudden decision to privatize the dams kunwari to raise calamity funds and transfer their management to more competent private managers.

It is possible that the dams and the waterways leading to them had been deliberately neglected and allowed to accumulate silt. The idea is to lower their sale value before they are privatized at bargain prices to cronies.

One reason why our dams easily overflow when it rains and just as easily dry up in summer is that their holding capacity has been substantially reduced because of heavy silting. They can no longer hold the maximum volume of water they were designed to do.

Is this deliberate — in preparation for their sale at giveaway prices to the usual suspects?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 18, 2009)

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