A measles outbreak has been declared in a baranggay in Taguig City last Thursday, March 1, making it the third outbreak declared by the Department of Health (DOH) in the country this year.
According to The Manila Times, health undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo said seven children were confirmed to have the infectious disease in the past two weeks. He did not name the barangay where the cases were seen to avoid panic among residents of the area. Domingo, however assured, “We have a response team to investigate and work to stop transmission of the disease. All the children are fine.”
Seven is not a lot of cases, but Domingo said measles, which is contagious, is preventable with vaccines. Domingo continued, “We should have zero cases. So even if we have just one to two cases, it is considered an outbreak and transmission must be controlled.”
The Taguig City government, meanwhile, has started a door-to-door measles immunization program for children below 5 years old in all the city's villages in light of the outbreak, according to The Manila Times.
Low immunization coverage was attributed to the outbreaks in the Mindanao regions — the last measles supplemental immunization conducted in the Zamboanga area was in 2014. In Taguig, Domingo said one of the factors was the Dengvaxia scare. And DOH’s immunization program rates have dropped from 85 to 90 percent to 60 percent early last month, he noted.
If the vaccine scare continues, Domingo said more disease outbreaks were “not a remote possibility.” He also named rabies and polio as other likely diseases that could lead to an outbreak if immunization coverage continues to drop.
“[The Dengvaxia controversy] has sent shockwaves to the entire hospital and public health system,” he said. “We've done a lot of these in the past but nothing like this, this magnitude and as an extreme consequence as this.”
The Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine (MMR) is given at a minimum age of 12 months and in two doses with a minimum of four weeks interval between shots, as per the most recent immunization recommendations and schedule from the Philippine Pediatric Society.
Measles, or tigdas in Filipino, is a highly contagious respiratory disease that spreads fast. It is caused by a virus characterized by fever and rashes.
“Measles is so contagious that any child who is exposed to it and is not immune will most likely get the disease,” explained Dr. Godofredo C. Godoy, an internist at Makati Medical Center. “Even just the breathing, coughing, or sneezing of an infected individual can cause the virus to spread.”
The vaccine remains to be the best protection against measles, said Dr. Godoy. “[An outbreak] starts when the majority of the people in a certain area are susceptible to it.”
He added, “The measles vaccine has been available for over 40 years already, and it is safe, effective, and inexpensive. Filipinos, particularly parents, need to be aware of this, as having a large number of unvaccinated children greatly increases the risk of more infections and deaths.”
The vaccine is the only way to avoid spreading the disease and getting it. For extra caution, practice hygiene and cleanliness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Center:
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Wash your hands often.
If soap and water aren’t available, clean your hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.