DOH: Measles outbreak expands to other areas of Luzon, Visayas

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday, February 7, announced a measles outbreak in other areas in Luzon and in parts of the Visayas.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III made the announcement in a news briefing as he reiterated his appeal to the public to have children vaccinated against measles.

"We are expanding the [declaration of the] outbreak from Metro Manila to the other regions as cases have increased in the past weeks," Duque said.

He said the DOH made the announcement also "to strengthen the surveillance of new cases and to alert mothers and caregivers to be more vigilant."

The DOH said that as of January 26, its Epidemiology Bureau reported an "increasing trend" in measles cases in the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, and Bicol.

The DOH recorded 575 cases with 9 deaths in Calabarzon compared to 21 cases in 2018, and 441 cases with 5 deaths in Metro Manila compared to 36 cases in 2018.

Central Luzon had 192 cases with 4 deaths, a 500% increase compared to 32 cases in 2018; Western Visayas with 104 cases and 3 deaths compared to 16 cases in 2018; Central Visayas with 71 cases and one death, a 3,450% increase compared to just two cases in 2018.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus that is transferred from person-to-person by sneezing, coughing, and close personal contact. Signs and symptoms include cough, runny nose, red eyes/conjunctivitis, fever, and skin rashes lasting for more than 3 days. 

The disease's complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), malnutrition, and blindness. It may also lead to death.

'Don't confuse measles vaccine with Dengvaxia'

During the press briefing, Duque and other health officials reiterated their appeal to the public that the vaccine scare created by the Dengvaxia controversy should not keep them from having their children protected by tested vaccines.

"Huwag po nating ilito ang Dengvaxia sa ibang bakuna (Let's not confuse Dengvaxia with other vaccines). The safest prevention is still through vaccines. Measles is a vaccine preventable disease," he said. 

He stressed that immunization and vitamin A supplementation of 9-month-old children and unvaccinated individuals are the best defenses against measles.

Duque reminded the public of "supportive measures" for people with measles such as increased oral rehydration "to increase body resistance and replace lost body fluids caused by coughing, diarrhea, and perspiration." 

The DOH reiterated its call to the public to bring their children to the nearest health facility at the first sign of fever for prompt treatment and proper case management. 

In 2017, Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine poses more risks to people who have not been infected by the virus before immunization. 

Following the admission, some parents of children administered with the anti-dengue vaccine claimed their kids died because of Dengvaxia. The claims were amplified by the findings of the Public Attorney's Office under Persida Acosta supporting the parents' allegations, which were thumbed down by veteran pathologist Dr Raymundo Lo as baseless and illogical.

As early as January 2018, health experts had appealed to the public to be wary of "wild claims" against Dengvaxia that had affected other government immunization programs and urged them to continue receiving vaccinations as a life-saving measure. 

Such calls apparently fell on some deaf ears as measles immunization numbers continued to drop a year afrer the Dengvaxia controversy. (READ: Dengvaxia controversy: Immunization drops, measles outbreaks soar) – Rappler.com