ILOILO City – There’s a measles outbreak in Western Visayas, too, according to the Department of Health (DOH). Early this week, it confirmed an outbreak in Central Visayas, Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Calabarzon. Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. The virus is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons.
One hundred sixty-six measles cases in Western Visayas have been reported to DOH Region 6 as of Jan. 26, with three suspected deaths, said Dr. Mary Jane Juanico, medical coordinator of the regional health office’s Child Health Program.
It still has to be established, however, if the deaths were indeed due to measles, she clarified.
Initial symptoms, which usually appear between 10 to 12 days after infection, include high fever, a runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading downwards.
Persons exhibiting symptoms must immediately seek treatment in public health centers or hospitals, said Juanico.
“Critical gid nga i-isolate ang kaso. Kon may complication like pneumonia or diarrhea kinahanglan gid makadto sa health center or hospital for prompt treatment. Kalabanan nga kaso even sa Manila nagakalamatay tungod sa complication sang tipdas,” she stressed.
She also underscored the importance of hygiene in the household, proper hand-washing and covering of the mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.
The outbreak could be due to the low coverage of DOH’s measles immunization program in Region 6 last year. Public support to the program may have dipped due to the Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine controversy, said Juanico.
The measles vaccine has been in use since the 1960s. It is safe, effective and inexpensive, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It recommends immunization for all susceptible children and adults for whom measles vaccination is not contraindicated.
Partial 2018 data from DOH Region 6 showed that for the first dose of the vaccine for nine-month-old children, the coverage was 61 percent – down from 67 percent in 2017.
For other immunization programs targeting child below one year old, Juanico said the coverage was at 51 percent – lower than the 67 percent coverage in 2017.
To address the low immunization coverage, DOH conducted a supplemental immunization campaign in 25 areas in Western Visayas, including the two highly urbanized cities of Iloilo and Bacolod. Juanico, however, lamented that the turnout remained low.
Of the total target population of 339,181 children, only 58 percent or 195,356 were covered by the supplemental immunization.
“Some parents or caregivers appeared unaware of our supplemental immunization. Others said the Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine controversy made them balk at the measles vaccination program,” said Juanico.
She reminded parents that measles is not only contagious but also fatal, thus vaccination is important “not only sa protection sang kabataan but sa protection man sang whole community.”
This April, DOH plans another region-wide measles supplemental immunization.
“Last year nagpangbakuna man kita sang mga health workers sa hospitals because some of our cases ara sa hospital so ang infection control naton gin strengthen,” said Juanico.
In 2018 DOH Region 6 recorded 1,052 suspected cases of measles of which 245 were eventually confirmed.
Juanico said most of the confirmed cases were from Negros Occidental (94) and Bacolod City (63).
There were 88 cases in Panay Island with Iloilo province having the highest number of cases at 32.
Also in 2018, there were four deaths due to suspected measles.
While global measles deaths have decreased by 84 percent worldwide in recent years — from 550,100 deaths in 2000 to 89,780 in 2016 — WHO said measles is still common in many developing countries, particularly in parts of Asia and Africa.
An estimated seven million people were affected by measles in 2016. The overwhelming majority (more than 95 percent) of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures, according to WHO./PN