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Flood-Stricken Philippines Facing Deadly Epidemics

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The World Health Organization reports the situation in flood-stricken Philippines is worse than anyone had expected. WHO warns disease epidemics are breaking out and thousands of people are at risk of illness or death.

Typhoons Ketsana and Parma hit the Philippines in quick succession on September 26 and October 3, bringing chaos to much of Luzon island, including the capital Manila.

These twin disasters have caused some of the most serious flooding seen in the Philippines in 40 years. More than four million people have been affected. Aid agencies report several areas in the north remain cut off by landslides and more than 500 people are known to have died.

World Health Organization spokesman, Paul Garwood, says tens of thousands of people are living in very difficult conditions. He says WHO is concerned about outbreaks of communicable diseases, and in particular about one disease called Lepto Sperosis.

"People contract the disease through rodents or infected animals," said Paul Garwood. "People who have been wading in water or swimming in infected water. It is the urine from these animals actually that leads to the infection and we are seeing an increase this year compared to last year of 5.6 percent. More than 800 cases, 58 deaths and, according to Philippines health officials-they predict some 19,000 people in at least two regions of the country will be infected with this disease."

Health officials say nearly 4,000 people probably will require hospitalization and upwards of 700 may die. Garwood says Lepto Sperosis is a bacterial disease and it is easily treatable.

"Treatment is ideally through antibiotics and there are control measures that can be undertaken once we have detected areas where infection is taking place," he said. "Then we have to control those areas and make sure that we identify people at risk and get them into treatment quickly."

Garwood says other top diseases being reported in the Philippines include acute watery diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and pneumonia.

He says less than one-third of WHO's $3.5 million appeal has been met. He says the money is urgently needed for medicines and medical supplies and for surveillance of diseases to prevent further outbreaks.