What’s dangerous about measles is it’s contagious even before the rash appears. That's the reason why it’s easily passed on. Photograph from Reuters
Culture Spotlight

You haven’t had measles your whole life. Should you be worried?

Measles (or tigdas) is not only for babies. It’s a life-threatening disease that can endanger anyone’s life
Rhia Diomampo Grana | Feb 08 2019

Following influenza and pneumonia, another health threat is causing panic and anxiety especially among parents with young children. This time, it’s not just a viral message making the rounds in social media. The Department of Health (DOH) has officially declared last February 6 that there is indeed a measles outbreak in the National Capital Region (NCR).

According to the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, the number of measles cases in NCR from January 1 to 19, 2019 has reached 196, as compared to 20 that was reported in the said region, in the same period last year. For the whole year of 2018, NCR registered 3,646 measles cases as compared to 351 cases in 2017.  

The NCR is composed of 16 cities and one municipality. These are the cities of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela, Quezon City, Marikina, Pasig, Taguig, Makati, Manila, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Pasay, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Muntinlupa, and the lone municipality of Pateros. Regions under tight watch by the DOH include regions 1, 2, 3, 4A, 4B, 5, 6,7, 8, 9, CAR, CARAGA. These regions need to scale up their response against measles and have all unvaccinated children vaccinated against measles, to stop it from spreading.

Patients being treated for measles at the Pediatric Ward of the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila. Photograph by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Dr. Ryan Llorin, an Infectious Diseases specialist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, attributes the uptick in measles cases primarily to the Dengvaxia controversy. “People got scared of getting vaccines,” he observes, adding that other vaccinations are also affected.

Measles 101

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus, the DOH explains in its news bulletin. It is transferred from person-to-person by sneezing, coughing, and close personal contact. Symptoms include cough, runny nose, red eyes/conjunctivitis, fever, skin rashes lasting for more than 3 days.

The disease’s complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection, pneumonia (infection of the lungs), encephalitis (swelling of the brain), malnutrition, blindness which may lead to death.

Measles is dangerous because it is highly contagious, Dr. Llorin explains. “Nine out of 10 who are exposed to measles will get the measles infection. Most susceptible are the young population, especially children who are malnourished, the elderly, those who are pregnant, and those who are immunocompromised—for instance, you have cancer and you’re undergoing chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant. At the same time, if you get infected, you can pass it on to a lot of people.”

He adds, “What’s more dangerous about measles is it’s contagious even before the rash appears. You think it’s a simple flu, cough, colds, it turns out, it’s measles. That's the reason why it’s easily passed on.”

Get yourself protected

The best defense against measles infection is to make sure that you get an MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, says Dr. Llorin. “The requirement for childhood vaccination is 2 doses of MMR vaccine, and that vaccination schedule is 99% effective—meaning, you are practically protected.”

People who already had measles in the past need not be alarmed because protection following a measles infection is life-long, says Dr. Llorin. There were reports of having a second episode of measles, but these are rare and isolated cases. Adults who have not yet been vaccinated with MMR when they were young and who don’t have a history yet of measles infection, are advised to get at least a dose of measles vaccine.

There are two options for those who don’t know their childhood vaccination history—do a measles Immunoglobulin G (IgG) test, which will indicate if you already had a measles infection in the past, or get vaccinated.

Aside from getting vaccinated, Dr. Llorin stresses on the importance of hand hygiene (washing hands), and observing respiratory etiquette (“when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose, use a tissue paper, and dispose of the tissue paper properly”), to avoid getting infected.

He advises everyone, “Try to avoid people who are sick, and if you are sick, it’s better to stay at home so you won’t infect others.”

 

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