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Pneumonia is new threat to storm-battered Philippines

A Typhoon Haiyan survivor comforted her child as she waited to board her evacuation flight at the airport in Tacloban, Philippines, on Friday.
Dita Alangkara/Associated Press
A Typhoon Haiyan survivor comforted her child as she waited to board her evacuation flight at the airport in Tacloban, Philippines, on Friday.

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the east-central Philippines, a new problem has emerged: pneumonia.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and are living under tarpaulins and in makeshift huts across Leyte Island and nearby islands. These simple structures are proving no match for torrential rain and a rapid alternation of chilly breezes and sweltering heat.

Three Philippines Department of Health officials said in separate interviews Friday that acute respiratory infections, including pneumonia, were the biggest single public health problem to emerge since the typhoon.

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Concerns about pneumonia came as the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, a Philippines government agency, said the death toll had reached 5,209 by Friday evening.

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The agency uses a conservative figure for deaths that relies on bodies being found and logged by officials.

At a meeting on Friday, where representatives of several dozen domestic and foreign medical groups described the latest health concerns, most were acute respiratory infections, said Dr. Jim Bernadas, the acting chief typhoon health incident officer for Leyte Island, the island in the archipelago that suffered most of the casualties.

He attributed the respiratory infections to the widespread lack of shelter, saying more tents were needed from international donors.

The department plans to compile on Saturday detailed information on the number of acute respiratory infections that have been diagnosed and officially reported to authorities, Health Department officials said.

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Dr. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said in a telephone interview from Washington on Friday that the US government was concerned about reports of pneumonia in typhoon-affected areas.

The agency estimates that 1.1 million homes were damaged or destroyed by the typhoon.

Shah said better shelter, nutrition, and clean water were crucial to preventing a further spread of acute respiratory infections in the upcoming months.