March 5, 2024
CHECKING WATER SOURCES — The City Health Services Office, headed by Dr. Celia Flor Brillantes, and representatives of the Department of Health Cordillera, gathered water samples at the Sto. Tomas rainwater catch basin in Poblacion, Tuba, Benguet and its water treatment facility managed by the Baguio Water District. The team also collected samples at BWD water distribution stations and private deep wells. The water samples will be sent to the  Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa for testing. –Neil Clark Ongchangco

Mayor Benjamin Magalong said the city is now fast-tracking the investigation to get into the bottom of the acute gastroenteritis (AGE) outbreak in the city even as latest figures suggested a downtrend in the number of cases as of Jan. 12, 2024.

The City Health Services Office said from as high as 508 cases recorded last Jan. 8, the office listed only 64 new cases last Jan. 11 which can be considered as a “steep decrease.”

Magalong said this meant that the containment and preventive measures the city employed had worked enabling the city to focus more on the investigation aspect.

The mayor said the city has tapped available manpower and resources from partner government agencies including the Epidemiology Bureau through Undersecretary and Public Health Services Center Lead Dr. Eric Tayag to speed up data collection and testing of water samples to determine the cause and source of the contamination.

Safeguards were also adopted to guard against shortage in medicines and bottled water in face of the increased demand.

Price and supply monitoring of bottled water was intensified through the Department of Trade and Industry Baguio-Benguet while medicine supply was augmented through the help of the Department of Health, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, and donations by private companies like SM City Baguio.

Mass testing of water samples from suspected sources was also fast-tracked.

The Sanitation Division of the CHSO with the assistance of Baguio City Police Office personnel also went full blast in testing water sources of the affected establishments and households.

City Health Officer Dr. Celia Flor Brillantes said as of Jan. 12, samples from 62 establishments, households, and institutions had been tested at the public health laboratory and results showed that 18 tested positive for total coliform and eight for E. coli.  Last Jan. 10, a sample from a food establishment also tested positive for bacterial contamination.

Of the 18 that tested positive for total coliform, 12 were water delivery firms, four were food establishments, one was residential but only its water dispenser was tested and one school. The same establishments and residence identified for coliform also tested positive for E. coli along with five of the 12 water delivery companies.

Brillantes said the findings affirmed that the affliction was indeed caused by contaminated water. The results however remain inconclusive as to where the source of contamination is coming from.

She said investigations and water tests will continue over the weekend to determine the root cause.

The Baguio Water District also went about testing its deepwells and its rainwater harvesting facilities.  As of Jan. 10, the district reported testing 15 of its deepwells yielded negative for coliform results in rapid tests. 

Brillantes said 10 samples gathered on Jan. 12 from the BWD sources all over the city had been sent outright to the RITM for intensive tests while another set will be subjected to testing at the local laboratory.

As of 2:20 p.m. on Jan. 12, there were 2,915 self-reports received by the CHSO and 652 of the patients sought consultation in health facilities with 65.2 percent still symptomatic.

Majority or 62.1 percent of the patients dined in a food establishment, 13.2 percent ordered take-out food, 12.9 percent ate home-cooked meals, and 11.9 percent had other circumstances.

A total of 310 were from outside Baguio while 204 were from neighboring towns, 135 each for Camp 7 and Irisan barangays, 132 from Bakakeng Norte, 101 from unspecified locations, and the rest from the different barangays.

The mayor convened on Jan. 10 a health emergency team and drew up a plan of action for extensive measures to address the emergency including the mass testing of water sources including water delivery companies and government and private deepwells.

“We have to speed up the investigation, test as many as we can, and get results as soon as possible. From the data, we have to identify the common denominator among the incidents to get to the bottom of the problem, identify the cause and source of the contamination and address this health problem,” the mayor said.

Initially, there were 218 establishments and 80 households affected.

As preventive measures, the city advised food establishments to refrain from serving tap or filtered water and instead use purified water for food preparations and customer consumption.

Households were also urged to do the same or boil their tap water for six minutes for safety purposes. – Aileen P. Refuerzo