How to prevent a measles outbreak in Iloilo

The Department of Health appeals to all parents to have their children vaccinated against measles amid an outbreak of this contagious viral disease in Western Visayas, specifically, Aklan recently.

Dr. Renilyn Reyes, medical specialist of DOH-Center for Health Development, said that as of January 7, 2014, there are 240 confirmed measles cases in the region, with 80% of the cases are in the province of Aklan and the rest are sporadic cases in Iloilo City and Bacolod City, among others.

The measles outbreak in Aklan started in July 2013 with two children dying from pneumonia, one of the complications.

“Sixty to 70% of the victims were not immunized while 20 to 30% were immunized but had a one-shot vaccine failure or there were just some of them who did not develop antibodies after vaccination,” Dr. Reyes said.

She added that while this is a childhood disease, measles has afflicted not only children but also adolescents and adults in Aklan.

Drs. Ma. Julia Villanueva and Dr. Renilyn Reyes, 
medical specialists of DOH-CHD

She added that Iloilo City is at risk of having the same after the DOH found out that there is a low level of immunization here.

“Supposed to be, 95% of the population in the barangay should be vaccinated, but it’s not the case. So, there is a high risk for a measles outbreak,” Dr. Reyes said.
She blamed the low immunization level to parents who are too busy to bring their children to the health center for shots or they did not see the importance of the vaccination program.

“A child aged 6 to 8 months should have a preventive dose, although the effect is low. To achieve 85 percent protection, have the child undergo vaccination at age 9 to 11 months. For 95 percent or more protection, have another vaccination when the child reaches age 12 to 15 months,” Dr. Reyes said.

Dr. Reyes advised parents or guardians to have children vaccinated against measles immediately.

The same with adults who were not yet injected with the vaccine.

“Vaccination is free for children below 5 years old in all local government unit health centers. Most of them are open during Wednesdays, but to be sure, check with your health worker. If the child is more than 5 years old, avail of the vaccination in a private clinic,” she said.

Dr. Reyes urged everybody to isolate a person who exhibits symptoms of measles.
The symptoms are: fever, generalized (no-vesicular) rash running for more than 3 days, cough, runny nose and red eyes (conjunctivitis).

“Bring the patient to the nearest health center. A blood specimen will be taken and this will be sent to RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine) for confirmation. The results will arrive a week or two weeks later. But due to an outbreak in Luzon (1,724 cases), it could be longer due to a backlog,” she said.

“RITM is the only qualified laboratory that can give a confirmation. But, we do not wait for RITM’s result before taking action. We already apply the standard operating procedure and do vaccinations,” she said.

To help treat the infection, caregivers should give patients nutritious food for resistance and oral rehydration to replace lost body fluids caused by coughing, diarrhea and perspiration.

Also give Vitamin A supplementation to the patient. A physician will also prescribe antibiotics to treat the infections.

Dr. Reyes said that since 1986, DOH has been conducting a mass immunization campaign every three to four years. The next one will be on July this year.

“But as early as last year, health centers were prepared for the mass immunization campaign. An effective campaign depends on the preparation that is why it was set on July. But to avoid an outbreak between now and July, we need a cost-effective strategy and that’s the catch-up of children under 5 years old,” she said.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, so the denser the population, the higher the chance of an outbreak.

“One person can infect 17 to 20 others,” Dr. Reyes said.

The modes of transmission are: airborne, droplet spread, and direct contact with nasal and throat secretions of infected persons.

It has resulting complications such as pneumonia, diarrhea, blindness, encephalitis, malnutrition and Otitis media (middle ear infection).

Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family, which normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs./Marie Katherine Villalon

(The writer is a freelance online journalist. Email:

Media during the monthly press conference of the DOH at Sarabia 
Manor Hotel and  Convention Center, January 8, 2014

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