DOH sees no quick end to measles outbreak

By Sheila Crisostomo, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 07 2014 01:41 AM | Updated as of Jan 07 2014 09:41 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The number of measles cases continues to rise in Metro Manila and the Department of Health (DOH) does not yet see an end to the outbreak.

In a press briefing, Health Secretary Enrique Ona yesterday admitted that while control measures are in place, the DOH expects to see more measles cases in the coming weeks.

Ona explained that routine vaccination is regularly being done at health centers in cities where measles cases have spiked as well as other areas, but these efforts might not be enough to quickly contain the outbreak.

“That is because even if we immunize now and we try to go after the children, it will take a couple of weeks before they develop immunity,” he said.

The DOH also foresees an increase in cases because measles is highly contagious.

Ona said a situation could be considered an outbreak “if there is even just one case, whether suspected or confirmed, in a community where in the past there was no case.”

“Usually, if there is one case per two weeks for two consecutive weeks interval (there is an outbreak). Whether you have one case per one week, but the point is there should no longer be measles in (Metro) Manila or hopefully even in the Philippines, but it has not happened yet. We are not measles-free, so anytime of the year, you can diagnose suspected cases,” he added.

The DOH’s National Epidemiology Center reported that from Jan.1 to Dec. 14, 2013, there were 1,724 measles cases, including 21 deaths.

A majority of the cases were in Metro Manila.

Based on the partial report of the DOH-National Capital Region (NCR), there were 416 confirmed measles cases in Metro Manila in the entire 2013. This figure is 1,568 percent higher than the 25 confirmed cases in the region in 2012.

Most of the 416 cases were in Las Piñas City (78), Manila (72), Muntinlupa City (65), Caloocan City (45), Parañaque City (32) and Malabon City (31).

Three deaths were recorded each in Muntinlupa, Caloocan and Malabon.

Immunization could fail

When asked why some children who have been vaccinated against measles still got infected, Ona admitted that immunization could sometimes fail. “People should understand that in medicine, there is no such thing as 100 percent. Like in 100 children, there may be two or three who may not develop antibodies,” Ona explained.

Despite this, the DOH urged parents to have their children vaccinated against measles.

“The problem is there is a good number of parents who don’t get their children vaccinated. Some even refuse to have their children vaccinated... because of religious beliefs,” Ona said.

Measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

In 2011, approximately 158,000 people died from measles, mostly children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization.

Expanded vaccination

The DOH is now organizing a mass immunization campaign that will cover some 11.7 million children below five years old across the country.

Yesterday, the DOH staff also met with health officers in cities and towns in Metro Manila at the DOH-NCR office to discuss the situation in their localities.

Ona said all of the localities have expanded their vaccination programs.

“This means that in the barangays where there are suspected cases, they (health authorities) go there to identify the family and possible contacts of the patients. And they vaccinated them... There is now an active vaccination campaign taking place,” he added.

The Quezon City local government, for instance, has intensified its measles vaccination program although no outbreak has been declared in the city.

The vaccination program covers infants aged nine months to children aged five.

Chief nurse Fe Justimbaste, coordinator for Quezon City’s expanded program on immunization, said the city’s health workers have vaccinated over 4,000 infants since April when the first measles case for 2013 was recorded in the city.

She said only 11 confirmed measles cases were recorded in the city from Jan. 1 to Dec. 21, 2013 but 100 other cases are also being monitored.

“Hopefully, these will not turn out as confirmed measles cases,” Justimbaste said, noting that symptoms such as fever and colds may be manifestations of other illness like the flu.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, on the other hand, yesterday said that he would meet today with Ona, city health officials and hospital officials to thresh out plans on how to solve the outbreak of measles in the capital.

“I am coordinating with the DOH and officials of the hospitals and the city health department. We will be meeting tomorrow (Tuesday),” Estrada said in a telephone interview with The STAR.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) has advised parents to keep their children whom they suspect to have measles at home.

DepEd Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali yesterday said keeping children with measles at home would help contain the spread of the disease. – With Helen Flores, Janvic Mateo, Jose Rodel Clapano, Danny Dangcalan