The following comes from a cousin of mine who had just taken her son home from the hospital after falling ill from a trip to Boracay. The concerned mother wants parents to know what can happen to your child if you go out there, as well as let others know that something urgently needs to be done in Boracay if it wants to survive in the tourism industry.
After six long years, we had been looking forward to our family vacation in Boracay. It was time to introduce our youngest to the famous white beach, ranked regularly as one of the top 10 in the world.
Since we were a family of 8, we decided to rent a house straight on the beach in Station 1.
Shortly after arriving and taking a walk on the beach, we noticed thick layers of algae that were both on the beach as well as in the water.
In order to go swimming, you had to wade through several meters of this knee-deep mucky green hair that felt alive and warm. It looked disgusting. That’s not quite the crystal-clear waters of Bora I remember thinking.
However, the kids were excited to frolic in the water, particularly my son who is just learning how to swim, thereby swallowing plenty of seawater in the process.
Ignoring my intuition about the algae turned out to be a grave mistake.
The second day after returning to Manila, the school nurse calls me: my 5-year old has a high fever and needs to be sent home.
He complained about stomach pain. That evening he started to throw up and have severe cramps.
The following night while trying to sleep, we had to take him to the bathroom 12 times within a span of eight hours.
The next morning, we took him to the ER.
At first, the doctor thought it was a viral infection. “Going around at the moment,” he assured me.
After I told him we had just come back from Boracay, he changed his tune. “Oh, then we’d better take a stool sample, this could be something else.”
After the stool sample was taken, he came back and said, “Not so good news. There’s blood, so it’s definitely bacterial, not viral. Probably, E Coli. We get that all the time with people coming back from Boracay. We need to culture the sample and will find out in three days.”
Antiobiotics were prescribed and we are sent home.
At home, our son went to the bathroom 20 times, wincing and crying out in anguish until he had no more tears to shed. That’s 32 times in two days. Too much for any adult, what more a five-year-old boy?
We took him back to the doctor the following day and was told he had to be confined immediately.
Even though I had been trying to hydrate him round the clock, the constant diarrhea had dehydrated his little body, with dry lips, sunken eyes, and looking awfully pale.
At the ER, he was immediately hooked up to the IV for rehydration and antibiotic treatment.
After telling my friends, I am amazed how many of them had similar stories about the aftermath of their Boracay trips:
“We had a company outing and six of us ended up with E Coli infections.”
“The worst stomach pains I have ever had.”
”Must have eaten something really bad”.
But is it the really the food?
Three days later, the stool sample confirmed the positive result for E Coli O157.
My doctor said we were lucky to have my son hospitalized: “One day later, and he could have suffered potentially fatal kidney failure.” What parent would ever want to hear that?
I started researching and found only a few dated articles on E Coli infesting the sea water.
I remember back in 1997 the DENR declared the waters of Boracay unsafe for swimming due to the E Coli infestation. Well, apparently little has changed over the last 15 years.
Overdevelopment of Boracay is well-known; what is less well-known is that you and your kids are swimming in the fecal remains of past visitors.
How is the E Coli strain spread?
The website of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention explains you can get it from swallowing contaminated water, as when swimming in a lake.
Well, we didn’t swim in a lake. It was the troubled, infested waters of Boracay that made my little one sick.
Shouldn’t there be an official health warning so that at least our kids are protected from this?
Given that it seems to be a well-known fact in the medical community that Boracay makes people and especially young kids sick, why isn’t anything being done about this, when it is our No. 1 tourist destination?
We’re hoping that responsible parties can finally address the problem before Boracay literally goes down the drain.