ILOILO City – The Department of Health (DOH) recorded 211 cases of measles in Western Visayas last year.
Negros Occidental had the most number of cases at 69, followed by Bacolod City (67).
Iloilo province had 27 cases; Iloilo City, 19; Antique, 17; Capiz, seven; Aklan, three; and Guimaras, two.
The number of measles cases in 2018 was 21,000 percent higher than that in 2017 which had only one case (in Aklan province).
The vaccine scare triggered by the Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine controversy could have contributed to the sharp spike in cases, said Dr. Mary Jane Roches Juanico, medical coordinator for the Child Health Program of DOH Region 6.
French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur said its Dengvaxia works as expected in people already exposed to the dengue virus; but in those who haven’t, the vaccination is linked to an elevated risk of severe disease developing from a subsequent dengue infection.
The government’s measles vaccination program targets children from six months old to 59 months old.
“The measles vaccination program coverage in the region is low. Most of our cases involve children,” said Juanico.
From Oct. 22 to Nov. 23 last year, DOH conducted a measles-rubella vaccination campaign in 25 local government units (LGUs) in Western Visayas which high measles cases. The target was 339,181 children but the number of children vaccinated was only 195,356 (58 percent).
“Parents knew the importance of measles vaccination but they were overcome by their fear,” lamented Juanico.
This year, DOH-6 will have a supplemental measles vaccination in the region. There would be house visits.
“Mabira-bira kami sang health education,” said Juanico.
Winning the public’s trust back to the government’s vaccination programs would not be easy, she added.
Those turning down DOH’s measles immunization would commonly offer this common excuse: they would first check with their children’s pediatricians, said Juanico in an interview last month.
But others were more blunt, she said, and would challenge the measles vaccine’s safety.
“We really remind parents and caregivers that measles is a serious illness,” said Juanico.
According to the World Health Organization, before the introduction of measles vaccine to the world in 1963, major epidemics occurred approximately every two to three years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.
Approximately 89,780 people died from measles in 2016 – mostly children under the age of five years, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, said WHO.
The measles virus is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract, then spreads throughout the body.
The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts four to seven days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.
After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about three days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for five to six days, and then fades.
On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of seven to 18 days), according to WHO./PN