PGTW: Measles apocalypse

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 January 2014, Thursday

Measles apocalypse

I remember coming down with some kind of measles in my childhood, as did many of my schoolmates; it was a rite of passage, an itchy, uncomfortable one.

However, strides in vaccination efforts have made the administration of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine pretty much mandatory to most infants born in the Philippines.

It was a shock to learn, then, that we are in the midst of a measles outbreak. Adults are not spared its effects, and an increasing number of babies are succumbing.

Last month, an officemate of mine skipped a week of work to recover at home from a bout with measles. He was lucky; others suffer complications, such as poet-activist Axel Pinpin, who was admitted to a hospital last week in critical condition for measles which has led to pneumonia.

Pediatrician Ruby Ann Punongbayan recently posted as her Facebook status grim statistics on the high infant mortality caused by measles “involving 4- to 6-month old infants, and what’s worse is that the mother’s ages of these babies range from 15 to 17 years old.”

The implications, she said, are, one, that the mothers themselves did not have or have not yet had measles, which could explain the lack of maternal antibodies passed on to their children; two, that these teenage mothers possibly did not receive measles/MMR [measles mumps rubella] vaccine themselves; and three, that they could have received measles/MMR vaccine but that “there was a problem in the cold chain which could have led to the questionable potency and efficacy of the vaccines they allegedly received.”

(A “cold chain” is a temperature-controlled supply chain which maintains food and chemicals at a given temperature range.)

Punongbayan directed me to a joint statement of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP), posted on the PPS website on Jan. 9, warning of an “measles outbreak.”

Thes statement cited a report of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the “national reference laboratory for measles of the Department of Health,” that points to the rise of “laboratory-confirmed cases…since March 2013 with the highest number in November (500 cases) and December (482 cases) 2013.”

The RITM report added that “most of the cases were reported from the National Capital Region, Region 4A, and Region 6” affecting mostly children below 2 years old.

Measles, according to the PPS-PIDSP statement, is “an extremely contagious illness…transmitted from person to person by direct contact with respiratory droplets or via airborne spread.”

It is so contagious that after exposure to a case, “approximately 90 percent of susceptible individuals develop measles.” It takes “about 10 to 12 days” after exposure for an individual to develop symptoms, and the disease “is infectious from four days before to four days after the appearance of the rash.”

Measles is often accompanied by complications, the most common being “pneumonia, otitis media [middle-ear infection], and diarrhea,” with the risk of death “higher in infants, young children, and adults” than in older children and adolescents.

Immunization, says the PPS-PIDSP, “is the most cost-effective preventive health measure in this century…Measles, being a vaccine-preventable illness, may be eliminated with high vaccine coverage.”

Before the introduction of the measles vaccination program in the Philippines, almost every person acquired measles before adulthood.

After the measles vaccination program was implemented, “initially covering about 35 percent of the birth cohort in 1982 and subsequently 100 percent in 1983, there was a dramatic decline in the number of cases,” said the PPS-PIDSP.

“[The] vaccines are highly effective and found to be safe,” their statement continues. “Let us all work with the government and increase our vaccination coverage.”

Other recommendations of the PPS-PIDSP are: to mount a massive information dissemination campaign about the disease, and to promote the “administration of measles vaccine to children, adolescents, and adults with incomplete or no previous vaccination” and post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours after exposure to people who have the disease.

At least one government agency has already gotten on board the “fight measles” train. The Department of Education launched a campaign against the spread of measles in public schools via DepEd Memorandum No. 03, s. 2014 of Jan. 9.

* * * * *

There is a benefit gig today to raise funds for the medical needs of Axel Pinpin.

“Rekoberi” starts 6pm at BKB Black Kings’ Bar, West Avenue, Quezon City. Among the performers are Bobby Balingit, The Usuals, KM64 Writers’ Collective, Goons n’ Guns, Bad Omen, Plagpul, Gazera, and Anak Dalita.  ***

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