THE Department of Health (DOH) in Western Visayas is monitoring the increasing number of measles cases in the region following an outbreak in Aklan province.

From last year until January 7 this year, the DOH recorded a total of 240 measles cases in the region.

Of the 240 cases, 193 are in Aklan, 18 in Negros Occidental, 14 in Capiz, 8 in Iloilo, four in Antique, and three in Guimaras.

Measles is a contagious viral illness characterized by fever, rash, cough, runny nose and red eyes that could be transmitted through airborne, droplet, or direct contact with nasal and throat secretions of infected persons.

In 2012, an outbreak was also declared in Negros Occidental, particularly in the north, where the province recorded 377 cases out of 406 measles cases in the region that year.

The cases were contained after the Provincial Health Office (PHO) launched an outbreak response immunization.

Dr. Ernell Tumimbang, provincial health officer of Negros Occidental, reminded the parents on Wednesday to bring their children to the barangay health centers for free measles immunization.

Based on PHO records in 2013, there were 47 suspected cases of measles in Negros Occidental, but only five were confirmed in Manapla town with two cases, and one each in Sagay City, Bago City, and Isabela town.

Tumimbang earlier said they are aiming to make Negros Occidental measles-free this year. "The key is massive immunization through public information campaign with the help of the media."

Dr. Renilyn Reyes, medical specialist of DOH-Western Visayas, said they have already visited Aklan and were able to conduct interventions.

Reyes said most of the patients there are aged between below one year old and 20 years old.

She noted that a person with measles could infect up to 20 persons around him or her. “That’s why persons with symptoms of measles should seek immediate medical consultation and isolation to prevent the spread of infection. We advise them to stay at home for the meantime to prevent harming others.”

Reyes said the measles vaccine is free and it may be given to a neonate as early as six months old. Another shot can be given at 11 to 15 months for proper protection.

She added that the DOH is also giving free vaccination to children aged one to five who have not been immunized.

In its Advisory No. 1, series of 2014 sent to local government units in Western Visayas, the DOH said all provinces have at least one measles case.

“This is evidence that measles transmission is still continuing all throughout the region. Consequently, this is a threat for a possible regionwide measles outbreak," the advisory said.

DOH Regional Director Marlyn Convocar, in the same advisory sent to the region's six governors and two mayors of highly-urbanized cities, said that "a selective catch up immunization activity will be conducted regionwide." (With reports from PNA)