Yesterday, February 6, the Department of Health (DoH) confirmed to the public that there is an outbreak of measles in the National Capital Region (NCR), and several other regions in Luzon and Visayas.
DoH Secretary Francisco Duque III based the information from San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila, which specializes in infectious and communicable diseases. Since the beginning of 2019 there have been 1,504 patients who contracted measles – 55 of which have died from the disease.
Duque attributes the increase of measles cases to distrust and loss of confidence of people in the immunization program and the use of vaccines, even though it has been proven safe and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
What exactly are measles?
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease caused by a virus of the same name. Because it is viral, it can be transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons.
Initial symptoms of measles include high fever, runny noses, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots inside the mouth; these happen within two weeks of contracting the virus. A few days afterward, rashes will begin to appear on the face and neck, making its way down the body.
Victims of measles are usually individuals with weak immune systems, usually caused by HIV/AIDS or diseases of the same nature. Severe cases are usually found in young children with poor nourishment, especially those who with Vitamin A deficiency.
Are adults safe then?
If you’re not vaccinated, then no. WHO highly recommends all susceptible children and adults alike to receive measles vaccination, which they have been using since the 1960s. It is safe, effective and inexpensive.
When highly severe, measles can cause blindness, intense diarrhea and dehydration, respiratory infections like pneumonia, and encephalitis (brain swelling due to infection).
The DoH is on high alert in trying to contain the measles outbreak, and request people to be vigilant. Duque urges that everyone, especially children, should approach health centers and get the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella – all similar diseases caused by viruses).
The battle continues
WHO has seen a decrease in measles deaths globally by 84% – from 550,100 deaths in 2000 to 89,780 in 2016. Still, measles is still common in many developing countries especially in Africa and Asia; as of 2016, 7 million people were affected by measles.
Based on their research, WHO found that most of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures. They have included measles and rubella, more commonly known as German measles, in their Global Vaccine Action Plan, targeting them for elimination in five WHO Regions by next year.
Duque has reiterated that measles is a vaccine-preventable and year-round disease, and that the measles vaccine has been proven safe and effective. “Let us not wait for [them] to contract measles,” he says.