DAVAO, MAY 7, 2006 (STAR) By Edith Regalado - Health authorities are checking the water sources on trails leading to the peak of Mt. Apo, the country’s highest mountain, after recent reports that climbers have been getting sick of E. coli-related illnesses.

"We are asking our epidemiologist to check on the incidents and at the same time to check on the water sources on the trails to Mt. Apo. Something has to be done about it," Department of Health (DOH) assistant regional director Salvador Estrera said.

Estrera said he would call on the different government agencies concerned if necessary to raise the alarm on the contamination of water sources as these have allegedly been used by most climbers as their toilet up in the trails.

A climber allegedly died while 18 others were reportedly downed by E. coli-related illness from what is believed to be contaminated water sources along the trails leading to the peak of Mt. Apo.

Estrera told The STAR that a certain Antonio Yap, 27, and a resident of Davao City, reportedly died at a hospital here late last week of illness traced to E. coli.

Yap reportedly just came from a trek to Mt. Apo before he succumbed to his ailment.

"It could be that the sources of water on the way to the top of Mt. Apo must be contaminated already. We have to check on the Yap case and that of the water in the springs of Mt. Apo," Estrera said.

Meanwhile, at least 18 mountain climbers from Bansalan, Davao del Sur also had to go down immediately after they suffered from severe stomach ache reportedly also due to the presence of E. coli in their sources of drinking water on the way to the peak.

The climbers were said to be suffering from the same signs and symptoms such as fever, severe stomach pain and loose bowel movement.

The Bansalan climbers were said to be tasked to clear a path in the trail that would start from the town.

But the climbers were not able to finish their task as they had to be brought down to a local hospital in Bansalan for treatment.

Estrera said Yap took a different trail from that of the Bansalan climbers but still the epidemiologist would look into the reported water sources.

Hundreds of climbers reportedly went up to Mt. Apo during the Holy Week as part of an annual trek, passing through the various trails, including the ones in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato City, in Barangay Kapatagan in Digos City and in Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur as well as the one through Eden, Bayabas here in Davao City.

Authorities have time and again closed Mt. Apo to trekkers as it has lately been noted that as the number of climbers and the frequency of climbs increased, garbage also increased along the trails.

The increase in the number of climbers has reportedly almost exceeded the carrying capacity of the mountain.

Environmentalist groups have also been working on an information campaign urging climbers to be aware of their responsibilities to the environment and that they should refrain from throwing their garbage just anywhere.

"E coli comes from human feces, meaning to say that the water sources in Mt. Apo have already been used as toilets by the climbers so that they are now very contaminated causing illness," Estrera added.

But it was noted that the water sources identified by Yap’s group and that of the Bansalan climbers were not near populated areas.

"So it could be that the E. coli was caused by wastes of the other climbers who might have used the water sources as their toilets," the health official said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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