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E. Coli: More fun in Boracay
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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La Sison Pangan

So I finally took all your advice and went to Boracay with my family… Beach is great, crowd is not my crowd and to answer your question, beaches that I fall in love with are those that don’t have much people. Overall, it was a great experience but yeah,,, I enjoyed Puka beach… not powdery white sand but it’s clean and way less people… Food was sooooo BAD. Tried the expensive ones to the cheap buffets… not worth our hard earned bucks…so that’s Boracay.. my children loved it but it’s not for us 🙂

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JBK

I work in the maritime field. As we approached Boracay by air, I took note of the sea to inspect its condition; current lines, surface debris, discoloration and to identify leeward versus windward aspects of the island. I was hoping to confirm open sea and clean water. I was disappointed to see a line of what appeared to be run off or waste from the nearby main land at Caticlan. The water is polluted. Foolishly, I continued our beachside vacation — assuming the distance of discolored water offshore was adequate and tidal changes wash it all away. I have been… Read more »

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JBK

pictures…

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JBK

more…

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Greg_Paz

We decided to move to a neighboring island because it is an eco-island that enforces sanitation (the governor is a Medical Doctor). 
Therefore we are just North of Boracay on Tablas Island (nearly 100 times larger than Boracay).
more information can be found on Trip Advisor or http://www.XBeaches.com

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Greg_Paz

according to falcon ngayon (a TV news program in the Philippines) this is because several hotels, small resorts and residence are dumping raw sewage (toilet waste) directly into the ocean instead of running it through a septic system (that cleans it before it is released into the environment).

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Guest

My german friend had E. Coli infection for a few days, we thought it was the clams we ate but apparently it could’ve very well been the water as he did swallow a lot of it while we were doing waters sports.

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George G

I’m afraid to go to Boracay in two weeks with a group.  Not looking forward to the pestering beggars and high rates for a toilet disguised as an island.  Tap water of the island can have E coli also, right?  I mean they wash and cook foods with it. Of course it could have been a cook or food handler with dirty hands or poor food storage. I will be investigating the pollution and take whatever samples of water I can and pay to get it tested from two or three different laboratories just to learn the truth.  I live on… Read more »

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misty

I believe there have been on going projects for Boracay’s sewage system since 2009. 

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20091229-244552/Work-on-P1-B-Boracay-water-sewage-plan-starts-Jan-1 

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Guest

Last I went to Boracay was in 2007. I was really surprised to see a ferris wheel in D’Mall. But I really felt the fast decline of Boracay when I saw Starbucks, with their brown tissue paper littering the sand. For me, the beach is supposed to be some kind of getaway from the busy urban life and things that represent it. I miss the old Bora with the old talipapa, local cafes and quaint little shops. Now it’s like they brought Manila to the beach.

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Guest

The algae you’re talking about is called Halimeda; it concentrates calcium carbonate in its tissues while still alive, and when it dies, releases the calcium carbonate as white wafers. Halimeda is normally found on healthy reefs, and they do contribute to beach sand (but Boracay powder sand is mostly due to the activities of parrotfish, FYI). And Halimeda is a very different type of algae from green hair algae, which is the type of algae that can be seen in the pictures above. The only benefit that can come from GHA is that they are indicators of pollutants in the… Read more »

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Guest

any test done on the water? your son could (may) get infection from another source.

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Guest

 1. “contaminated with “deadly” e.coli…” – It is an established medical fact that some serotypes of E. coli can cause serious food poisoning in humans, and food poisoning can be fatal. Look it up, because stating that it is “deadly” does not help. 2.  “ALGAE has been there for decades already. Nature itself causes them, and if any contamination happened, it is not the cause of Algae only.” – And you, of course, know the species of algae that has been there for decades, right? Because while it is true that algae, in general, are a regular sight in healthy… Read more »

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Dot

 Ja, I have been to Waikiki, and to popular beaches abroad. Yes, they can get overcrowded, but most infrastructure developments are controlled. In Waikiki, you have to cross a huge road before you reach the shoreline. It’s not just overcrowding that causes filtth, but overdevelopment.

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Guest

E-coli?? Ewwww, they’re baaaaack! from ’97! was there when we had to fight tooth and nail to address the problem in many fronts. now it could be worse, with little or no control in sanitation & health! Still Boracay folks not embracing SUSTAINABILITY ethos at all!

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Guest

i call the green stuff lumot…grossed out when i swam in it…didnt spend a whole lotta time in the water because of that…i enjoyed puka beach wayyy more than i did white beach…

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Guest

strange

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Sassysantos1

After reading your article two important things came to mind:  1) As a parent wouldn’t you think twice about letting you kids go in murky water especially when you “notice thick layers of algae that were both on the beach as well as in the water” ? Even become more alarmed if “you had to wade through several meters of this knee-deep mucky green hair that felt alive and warm.”                                                                                  2) why would the hospital send a 5 year old kid home when they suspect a possible E-Coli infection (and the doctor prescribed antibiotics when studies have shown that antibiotics… Read more »

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op103d940

The water itself is fairly warm around Boracay – around 77 degrees F (25 C) or warmer even if your body tries to say otherwise.  When I went in May 2010, 30 C felt heavenly because of the heat wave going on when I was there.

I stayed at a hotel located in Station 3 – no algae where I was.  Stations 1 and 2 resulted in algae forests thick enough as a thick band of green from the sand. So, one would think that live algae + warm water = alive and warm.

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Ipat

After a bit of googling:  An Evaluation of Factors Affecting the Survival of Escherichia coli Sea Water’ Salinity, pH, and Nutrients, A. F. CARLUCCI2, DAVID PRAMER “The reaction and salinity of natural sea water do not favor survival of the test organism and will contribute significantly to the rapid death of cells of E. coli that enter the oceans by way of land drainage and sewage outfalls. High levels of some inorganic nutrients ((NH4)2504and (N-H4)2HP04) fostered survival of E. coli. When sea water was supplemented with organic matter (glucose, peptone, sewage volatile solids, and cysteine) death of E. coli was… Read more »

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Guest

 This is exactly what I’ve been telling everyone who asks me why I haven’t been to Boracay yet, or when they say that they are planning to go. The water is SEPTIC! That’s why it’s full of green algae, it’s due to an overabundance of nutrients from human sewage! And the answer is not a beach cleanup to remove the algae; if anything, by consuming these nutrients, the algae speed up the detox of the water. But unless Boracay addresses its glaring lack of proper sewage treatment facilities, excessive commercialization and rapid urbanization, the day is fast approaching when its… Read more »

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Guest

I haven’t gone to boracay because I think and have heard from friends and family that it is OVERRATED. now i have more reason to patronize other beaches in the Philippines for we have so many and most are much more amazing than boracay 😀 I feel bad for the mom, me being a mother myself. My daughter loves to swim and whether it’s the food or leaking sewage system polluting the waters, i know i wouldn’t want my daughter to go swimming in a beach where there are thousands of people coming in and out all day long. there’s… Read more »

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Guest

How can you say it’s overrated when you’ve never been? How can you say that the other beaches are more amazing when you’ve never seen Boracay for yourself? How can you compare? Yes, Borcay is highly commercialized, yes there are too many people AT TIMES. But if you know where to stay and know where to go, not to go and WHEN to go, then I dare say you’ll be hard pressed not to have a good time and be amazed by how beautiful it is. I’ve been a lot of times already, and I’m still stunned by how beautiful… Read more »

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Guest

You haven’t been to Boracay and you already say it’s overrated?? Overrated compared to what? Overrated compared to Aman Pulo of course…Why don’t you just shut up La Sison Pangan.

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Katrina Atienza

scary and sad. This is one of the reasons I felt annoyed when there was this Facebook campaign to stop people from calling Boracay “Bora” to preserve the island culture chu-chu. Parang, really?! This is what you’re choosing to focus on? There are so many more things to fix/preserve about Boracay than what people are calling it! (sanitation is foremost!)

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dontaskmetosmile Reply:

Saw that and thought that was the stupidest campaign ever. 

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Guest

Saw that and thought that was the stupidest campaign ever. 

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Guest

Just heard Secretary Jimenez on radio talking about rehab of Boracay. I was just there last month and i must truly say it was filthy compared to what it was before.  We have to manage Boracay by managing the greed and the progress.

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Guest

Before we all jump to conclusions, @divasoria:twitter pointed out on Twitter this morning that seawater is an antiseptic. After a bit of Googling, I found that, indeed, E. Coli doesn’t survive well in sea water because high concentrations of salt is lethal to the bacteria. Most articles I saw did specify LAKE water, I assume because most lakes are fresh water. Separately, does sea algae really mean that the water is dirty? I’ve never had that before. And since I see algae every morning every time I’m in Boracay, you’d think alarm bells would’ve been raised ages ago if algae… Read more »

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Guest

I agree with dontaskmetosmile.  If the seawater was contaminated, how come it was only the 5 year old child who was infected out of the 8 members of the family? A child at that age is at the inquisitive stage, who’s fond of putting anything inside the mouth.  The child might touched a contaminated object from anywhere, for all we know it was from a dirty toilet and failed to wash his hands. “The study found that very few of the E. coli present on the beach are potentially harmful to humans ” Check it out @ http://www.livescience.com/4492-coli-thrives-beach-sands.html However, everyone… Read more »

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Guest

Research by Googling?  That does not make you an expert.

Raw sewerage in seawater has caused diseases since time immemorial. Wht don’t you try swimming in Manila Bay.

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Guest

Where did I say I was an expert? I only said that there were other possibilities as to how the child got infected, and that those other scenarios should be looked into as well. Sheeesh.

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Gisellemontero

People in Boracay are misinformed about the green algae – they think its what makes the sand white.  When we when there we tried to say, no it does no make sand white but rather a reaction of the water from pollution. But of course, whom will they believe – just tourists or those from government.  I havent gone back to Boracay since. ANd government should really confront the issue instead of giving lame excuses to the people who live there and go there. We have to take care of our environment so it can take care of us.

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Guest

It’s been a concern before yet all of them ignore it since most of the people who go there are adults. Too bad it has to happen to your kid. I wish this can reach to the persons who can do something about it.

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Guest

I’ve only been to Boracay twice (which doesn’t make me an expert on the island, unlike Brian Gorrell who seems to know everything about the country because of his few months there) and both times I stayed at the Discovery Shores.  I must say years of reading about the island on lifestyle columns and blogs led to a somewhat disappointing reality. I’m sure the island is very nice, and nobody can ever deny its  central contribution to Philippine tourism.  But it’s too damn overrated and overcrowded.  I was amazed how shabby most of the island looked when I rented a… Read more »

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hiddendragon

What did Brian Gorrell do to you? Did he gyp you of your money, like what a bunch of our fellow Pinoys did to him?

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Guest

Makes you wonder what happens to the “environmental fees” that they now require all Boracay visitors to pay.

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rocketeer712

eew. that’s all i can say. eew.

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Guest

E. Coli outbreak is caused by human fecal matter.  Too many Pinoys already, take a HINT.

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Jude Lopez Mancuyas Reply:

Too many Pinoys? Ahem…

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Chelsea Bondoc Reply:

Your point is?

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Guest

Too many Pinoys? Ahem…

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Guest

Your point is?

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Guest

This is becoming alarming. My friend and I experienced the same horrible fate last year. We suspected it was from the seafood we ate the night before the attack but later thought it was probably because of the E. Coli infection from the sea water after hearing similar incident on the news.

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popazrael

thanks for sharing this
I’m glad the kid is okay…my son got e.coli last year. kaawa talaga ang lagay pag na hospital confine at e.coli pa ang findings..hirap na lalo na pag kid.

bora local officials should do lab test on the water  and cordon it off as the moment

heard also that there’s red tide news, ingat tayo ngayon

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Guest

Yes, marumi talaga ang tubig sa Bow-ruh. I hope people realize that it’s not the food that’s making them sick.

Last year was my first time to go to Boracay. I got scolded by my cousin (a former Agriculture secretary) when he found out. He said the waters are so dirty, it’s harmful to the health. Yaiks.

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Guest

Happened to me, too, in 2004. But mine came from the food because I didn’t want to touch the seawater at all. I was vomiting and pooping for 4 days (sorry TMI). Almost died of dehydration. Finally came back here to Manila and had to keep going back to the hospital for treatment over the next 2 weeks. Yes, 2 WEEKS! And that is why I’ve never gone back to Bora since ’04!

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Guest

Thank you for sharing this!
So sad, we haven’t brought my kids there yet and my hubby might not ever bring them there if he reads this! 🙁

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Guest

Eww, I remember our first family trip to Boracay back in summer 2008. The waters were also green and algae-infested. Luckily, we were too grossed out to swim in it so we just swam at the hotel swimming pool and went beach hopping to a place where the water was clear. What a horrible experience for a child. I hope he’s better.

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Guest

Thanks for sharing…..please spread, be aware, be careful, be vigilant…..everybody take care and GODBLESS…

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Drew

Where is Gina Lopez when you need her

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Pia

My heart skipped a beat when I read E. coli O157:H7. That’s really deadly stuff, one of the worst bacteria ever. It’s no joke. Thank God that little boy is alive!!!

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Guest

OMG! My bestfriend and her family went to Bora for a vacation last year and they ended up being “Dextrosed in Bora” as in all of them!

http://kaloka.livejournal.com

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Walter Robles Reply:

Kalurki ang  confusion as to whether the person who liked this post liked the fact na na dextrose sa Bora ang family or something else. 
 

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Guest

Kalurki ang  confusion as to whether the person who liked this post liked the fact na na dextrose sa Bora ang family or something else. 
 

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Guest

I think officials should do something about temporarily closing parts of the coastline where algae are 3 freaking feet deep. I have experience moldy Boracay 2 years ago and I’ve seen that amount of algae depends on areas, I’d be wise to choose where it’s of least amount of course as I avoid algae not even because of e.coli (cause I’m not aware of this yet at that time) but because it’s itchy-slimy. When I was in Montego Bay, Jamaica 2005, half of the coastline were temporarily closed for a day or two, letting natural waves to do the cleaning… Read more »

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Guest

This is sad. I hope this catches someone’s attention and that that someone acts fast. Thanks for sharing!

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Guest

My first time to visit Boracay was in 87 and it was really a piece of heaven. It was literally uninhabited save for a few topless foreigners. I kept coming back year after year till I saw for myself how it turned into a monster of a “resort” almost overnight.  Several ATM machines and shopping centers later, I’ve decided in 1997 to stay away from Boracay for good. I’d rather keep Boracay pristine in my memory. I knew somehow this would happen. Sad.

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Guest

yikes.  went there last year medoy ganyan din sa white beach. dun kami ng swimming sa puka beach stop over ng boat tours na malinis at walang tao. wala naman nagkasakit. thank god.

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