UNSAFE. A source of drinking water in one of the remote communities of Jipapad, Eastern Samar in this Sept. 13, 2022 photo. The cholera outbreak in Eastern Visayas this year is caused by contaminated water, according to the Department of Health. (Photo courtesy of Department of the Interior and Local Government Eastern Samar)

TACLOBAN CITY – The Department of Health (DOH) in Eastern Visayas on Thursday reported 32 deaths suspected to be due to cholera as undetermined water-borne diseases downed 3, 955 from January to October this year.

Of the total number of suspected cases, 403 samples were tested and 87 found positive for cholera through laboratory tests only done at the DOH-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City.

Of the 87 confirmed infections, 34 were recorded in Tacloban City.

Roderick Boyd Cerro, DOH Eastern Visayas regional epidemiology and surveillance unit manager, said in an interview that the majority of cases are suspected since it is hard to distinguish a single patient with cholera from a patient infected by another pathogen that causes acute watery diarrhea without testing a stool sample.

No confirmatory tests for the fatalities as the patients were already in the severe stage when brought for treatment, Cerro added.

A surveillance monitoring report shared by DOH to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) showed majority or 24 of the deaths were reported in Samar province where the cholera outbreak broke out as early as April 2022.

The DOH here said in a previous interview that one confirmed cholera case is already considered an outbreak.

Of the 32 suspected cholera deaths in the region, seven were recorded in Catbalogan City, four in Calbayog City, six in Tarangnan town, two each in Almagro and Gandara towns, and one each in the towns of Jiabong, Villareal, and Santa Margarita, all in Samar province.

The seven deaths in Leyte include the five casualties in Tacloban City and one each in Abuyog and Tanauan towns. In Southern Leyte, one death was reported in San Juan town.

Victims manifested signs and symptoms of those afflicted with cholera, such as the sudden onset of frequent painless watery stools, vomiting, and rapid dehydration.

Cerro said in an interview the cholera outbreak in the region was first recorded in Santa Margarita, Samar where 118 people suffered severe diarrhea.

“Based on our initial monitoring, the illness spread to nearby areas such as Calbayog City and Catbalogan City due to movement of infected people,” Cerro told PNA.

Of the 3,955 persons who manifested cholera symptoms, 1,956 of them are from Samar province, 932 from Leyte, 527 from Eastern Samar, 251 from Biliran, 232 from Southern Leyte, and 67 from Northern Samar.

In 2021, the region just recorded 534 suspected cholera cases with three deaths and zero confirmed case, according to the DOH.

“The region is vulnerable to cholera outbreak due to unsafe water sources and poor hygiene. We are closely monitoring the situation to help our local government units stop the spread of this illness,” Cerro added.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae.

Cholera affects both children and adults and can kill within hours if untreated, according to the World Health Organization.

The DOH regional office advises the public to boil drinking water for five minutes if unsure of its safety, practice household water treatment with chlorine, aquatabs and hyposol; regular cleaning of storage reservoir and water tanks; proper hygiene; proper food preparation; avoid eating street-vended food; keeping food away from insects and rats; washing of fruits and vegetables with clean water before eating or cooking; use of toilet when defecating; and seeking early consultation. (PNA)