Whooping cough kills 6 infants in Cebu

Whooping cough kills 6 infants in Cebu
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PERTUSSIS, commonly known as whooping cough, has already killed six infants in Metro Cebu.

Dr. Eugenia Mercedes Cañal, regional epidemiologist of the Department of Health (DOH) 7, said three of the fatalities were in Cebu City, two in Mandaue City and one in Lapu-Lapu City.

In a news forum on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, Cañal urged parents to have their children vaccinated against the disease, which is fatal among unvaccinated children aged zero to five years old.

She said the fatalities belonged to the zero to two months old age bracket.

She said they have had 115 suspected cases in Central Visayas since January, of which 42 were confirmed.

Based on data the DOH 7 sent to SunStar Cebu, Cebu City has 13 confirmed cases; Mandaue City, four; Lapu-Lapu City, one; Cebu Province, 19; and Bohol, five.

No confirmed cases were reported in Siquijor and Negros Oriental provinces.

“It really is an awakening and quite alarming... we already saw this coming. There was a big chance that vaccine-preventable diseases might return since the immunization rate has fallen,” Cañal said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

For the suspected cases, or those awaiting confirmatory test results, 22 are in Cebu City, two in Mandaue City, 14 in Lapu-Lapu City, 22 in Cebu Province, nine in Bohol and two in Negros Oriental.

Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is fatal to children younger than five years old who have not been immunized.

Cañal said it is often mistaken for an asthma attack due to the hacking cough it causes. She said pertussis leads to a highly contagious respiratory infection, spreading through person-to-person respiratory droplets or contact with contaminated surfaces such as clothes, utensils and furniture.


Common symptoms include a lingering cough lasting two or more weeks, mild fever, and a runny nose.

Cañal said they will run a confirmation test on children who display symptoms or are suspected of being infected through a swab test. They will then submit the samples to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila for confirmation.

She said children with the disease are treated with antibiotics. She urged parents to immediately bring their children with symptoms to the hospital before it is too late.

Cañal said there has been a significant rise in the number of whooping cough cases since the year started.

“For the last five years, our cases had been quite minimal, but suddenly it escalated in 2024, gradually increasing,” she said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

According to national news reports on pertussis last week, only 23 cases were reported nationwide in 2023, two in 2022, seven in 2021, 27 in 2020 and 52 in 2019.

However, according to a Philippine News Agency report last Saturday, March 23, 453 cases have already been recorded nationwide this year, as of March 9, with 35 deaths.

Cañal said the resurgence of the disease can be attributed to the low immunization rate. Many parents have refused to have their children vaccinated since the Dengvaxia vaccine scandal broke out in 2017.

Dengvaxia was intended to prevent dengue fever. But controversy erupted in the Philippines when the vaccine was found to increase the risk of disease severity in people who had not had a previous dengue infection.

This was revealed in the middle of a DOH-administered school-based vaccination program.

Cañal said the immunization rate for pertussis in Region 7 stands at 60 percent, falling short of the 95 percent required to achieve herd immunity.

Herd immunity is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.

Importance of vaccination

She urged parents to have their children injected with the pentavalent vaccine, which protects them against diptheria, pertussis and tetanus, hepatitis B, Haemophilus, and influenza type B.

Cañal said the vaccine is given in health centers for free and children can get up to three doses and a booster shot.

An infant can get the first jab in the first six weeks since birth. Last Monday, March 25, Agnes Realiza, head of the Lapu-Lapu City Health Office (LCHO), and Debra Catulong, head of the Mandaue City Health Office (MCHO), told SunStar Cebu they had increased the administration of pentavalent vaccines to contain the spread of the disease, particularly among toddlers and infants.

They have also been conducting catch-up vaccinations, or administering vaccines to those who missed out on a particular vaccine at the recommended age or missed a scheduled vaccination dose.

The two health officials said there is no outbreak of pertussis in the two cities. Catulong reminded parents to follow the instructions for medication intake and isolate the pertussis-infected child from other children to prevent contagion.

Realiza and Catulong also advised the public to practice proper hand washing and resume wearing masks to prevent the spread of the disease.

The two health officials emphasized the importance of vaccinating children against common diseases like pertussis and seeking regular check-ups at health centers.

Realiza said they continue to conduct health education for parents in Lapu-Lapu to properly take care of their children and to ensure they receive ample nutrition. (KJF, HIC)


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