AT LEAST 96 measles cases, including one death, have been reported in Central Visayas since the beginning of the year.
This, as the Department of Health (DOH) declared a measles outbreak in the National Capital Region and eight other regions, including Central Visayas, on Thursday, Feb. 7.
DOH 7 Director Jaime Bernadas said the number of measles cases had been on the rise in Region 7 since last August.
He said they were on the last stages of combating the outbreak compared to other areas in the country, where the outbreak was in its initial stages.
Bernadas and other health officials said parents have refused to have their children vaccinated since the Dengvaxia controversy.
Based on records provided by DOH 7’s Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU), measles cases in the region from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2 were 2,300 percent higher compared to the same period last year, which had four cases and no deaths.
Overall, the number of measles cases last year was 469 with two deaths.
Most of those affected, or 36.5 percent, were between the ages of one and five. Some 43.8 percent were from Cebu City.
Based on records this year, Cebu City recorded 42 measles cases followed by Lapu-Lapu City with eight cases and Mandaue City with five cases.
Bais City and Tayasan town in Negros Oriental; and Liloan, Pinamungajan and Talisay City in Cebu Province recorded three cases each.
The cities of Carcar and Bogo in Cebu Province recorded two measles cases each.
The DOH 7 also recorded one measles case each from the cities of Toledo and Danao and the towns of Tuburan, Moalboal, Medellin and Malabuyoc in Cebu Province; and from the cities of Bayawan, Dumaguete and Bais and the towns of Bindoy, Basay, Ayungon, Jimalalud, Manjuyod and Santa Catalina in Negros Oriental.
No measles cases were reported in Bohol and Siquijor.
The lone fatality was reported in Moalboal, Cebu.
Last year, the disease claimed two infants from Cebu City and Negros Oriental.
The increasing number of measles cases has alarmed health officials in Cebu City.
Dr. Michelle Linsalata, Cebu City Health Department National Immunization Program coordinator, said measles cases are increasing at a very alarming rate.
“Usually we only have four (cases) or five in a year (with a) maximum siguro (of maybe) 10. So kani daghan-daghan na gyud ni siya (42 cases since the beginning of the year are a lot),” Linsalata said.
In 2017, Cebu City recorded only 18 measles cases, she said.
But Bernadas clarified that they had been conducting regionwide catch-up immunization and house-to-house supplemental immunization visits in measles-afflicted areas since August to ensure all children were immunized.
As of yesterday, the DOH 7 already reached its 60-percent target of children to be immunized following the measles outbreak last year.
He said the regionwide outbreak started last August in Negros Oriental.
In September, a measles outbreak was reported in some parts of Cebu. Bohol and Siquijor followed in the succeeding months.
Bernadas said an outbreak was declared if they found a single documented case of measles in an area.
Once the outbreak was declared, they immediately immunized vulnerable persons to ensure the virus did not spread, he said.
He said a contributing factor to the increasing prevalence of measles was the refusal of some parents to have their children vaccinated due to the Dengvaxia scare that started two years ago.
Bernadas said during their catch-up immunization and house-to-house immunization activities this year, there were still some people who refused to have their children vaccinated despite their best efforts to educate them.
In Cebu City, misinformation and misconception on vaccines also contributed to a high refusal rate among parents.
Linsalanta admitted that since last year, only a few children aged one month to 15 years old living in the city had been vaccinated.
Linsalanta blamed the recent Dengvaxia scare for the low turnout. “Before, we would usually get around an average of 77 percent of fully-immunized children or those (who had) already completed vaccination after they turned a year older. But now, only 36 to 40 percent of children get fully immunized because of the vaccine scare,” she said.
In Lapu-Lapu City, local health officials had also observed parents refusing to have their children vaccinated.
Dr. Agnes Realiza, Lapu-Lapu City Health officer, told Superbalita Cebu that of the 45,500 children who were supposed to be fully immunized last year, only 23,000 were vaccinated.
Realiza said some children were not vaccinated due to their parents’ refusal over claims that the controversial Dengvaxia scare had driven them to swear off vaccines.
Bernadas urged parents to have their children fully immunized to build “herd immunity” in communities.
Herd immunity occurs when vaccination of a significant portion of a population provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity.
Bernadas believes that allowing more children in a community to be vaccinated will ensure that those who can’t build or are yet to get immunity will have a measure of protection against the virus.
Bernadas warned parents that not allowing their children to be immunized against measles could mean exposing them to health complications, which could be fatal if left untreated.
According to the World Health Organization, measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus of the Paramyxovirus family. It is normally passed through direct contact and through the air.
The virus infects the respiratory tract before spreading 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 during the initial stage.
After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck.
Most measles-related deaths are caused by serious complications, such as blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and dehydration, ear infections or severe respiratory infections, such as pneumonia. (JKV, FVQ of SuperBalita Cebu and Kiziah Marie T. Suello, USJ-R Intern)