Measles cases in the country have surged dramatically by 299% from January to October this year, sounding alarms within the public health sector, as reported by the Department of Health (DOH).
The latest data from the DOH’s Disease Surveillance Report shows concerning statistics. 1,829 cases were recorded during this period. This marks a significant increase compared to the same timeframe last year, which garnered 458 cases.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was the outbreak’s epicentre. It reported a staggering 601 cases, the highest among all regions. Additionally, Central Luzon had 260 cases, and Central Visayas had 126 cases. The BARMM not only leads in the total number of cases but has also experienced the highest surge compared to 2022, with an alarming 4,523% increase from 13 to 601 cases. The Cordilleras and Soccsksargen have also witnessed significant upticks of 1,800% (from one to 19 cases) and 800% (from 10 to 89 cases), respectively.
Measles: A Highly Contagious Threat
Measles, or rubeola, is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus. Transmitted through respiratory droplets, it manifests with flu-like symptoms, red eyes, high fever, and a distinct red-brown rash. Symptoms appear 10 to 14 days after infection, with an infectious stage extending several days before and after the rash.
Complications are more severe in young children and adults (over 30). They include ear and brain infections, pneumonia (a common cause of infant mortality), and giant cell pneumonia in immunocompromised individuals. Liver inflammation and diarrhoea can also occur. Blood tests trace infections, and while immunocompetent individuals may face secondary infections, recovery from measles often provides lifelong immunity. Vaccination remains crucial in preventing this highly contagious and potentially severe disease.
Dr. Carl Lexter Tan, a general physician and an epidemiology instructor at the University of Santo Tomas, shared the possible factors that led to the increase in measles cases this year. He said,
“The rise in measles this year is due to multiple factors. Measles, being highly contagious, spreads through direct contact or inhalation of airborne particles. The reopening of schools and establishments, which were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributes to the increase compared to the previous year or two. Hence, if we compare the case from the previous year or a few years ago to this year’s by number, we expect to see an increase. Despite the rise, it’s important to note that vaccination rates have declined.”
Dr. Tan also mentioned the public health initiatives that the Philippines offers. They included the program called “Ligtas Tigdas” under DOH, which aims to educate and vaccinate children. Additionally, last 2021, AO No.2021-0045 was issued to conduct a catch-up immunization. He also noted international initiatives such as the WHO Measles and rubella strategic framework in 2020.
He noted that there is no specific ”treatment” for measles. Most of the treatment that is given is supportive treatment, that is, to address the symptoms of measles, such as cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis. However, antiviral therapy could also help. Additionally, vitamin A is recommended in severe cases.
Lastly, he advised that the best treatment that he could give is for parents to know how to catch the signs as early as possible. Since it is highly contagious, seeing the sign early will limit its transmission, which is also a preventive strategy. “And, of course, the best preventative measure is to get vaccinated.” He added.
The current surge in measles cases demands urgent and comprehensive action from public health authorities, healthcare providers, and the community at large. By addressing the root causes of the outbreak, dispelling vaccine-related myths, and ensuring widespread access to vaccination, the nation can collectively combat this alarming public health crisis. It is imperative to act quickly to protect lives and prevent further escalation of the measles epidemic.