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Philippine pertussis deaths rise to 49, mostly children


PHILIPPINE deaths from pertussis or whooping cough have risen to 49 who were mostly children, health authorities said on Tuesday night.

In a statement, the Department of Health (DoH) said it had logged 862 cases of pertussis as of March 23.

“This sharp rise is also being seen in other countries such as the United Kingdom in Europe, where 553 cases were recorded in England for January 2024 alone,” it said in a statement.

Among regions, Mimaropa logged the biggest number of cases with 187, followed by Metro Manila (158), Central Luzon (132), Central Visayas (121) and Western Visayas (72).

Of those affected, 79% were less than five years old. Two-thirds were either unvaccinated or did not know their vaccination history, DoH said.

People aged 20 and older accounted for only 4% of the cases.

The agency said it’s “cautious in interpreting trends as the number of cases may still change as there may be late consultations and reports.”

“Furthermore, the effects of increasing immunization efforts to stem the outbreak may not be seen in the data until four to six weeks after they are started,” it added.

Pertussis or whooping cough, a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection that can be treated by antibiotics, causes influenza-like symptoms such as mild fever, colds and coughs seven to 10 weeks after exposure. In typical cases, it may develop into a “characteristic hacking cough.”

Pertussis is locally known as ubong-dalahit or tuspirina.

The Philippine College of Physicians has expressed “deep concern” over rising pertussis cases, urging the local medical community and local governments to help boost the country’s vaccination coverage.

“Studies have consistently shown that the pertussis vaccine significantly decreases the incidence of pertussis by over 92% and decreases the mortality rate by 97%,” it said in a position paper.

It warned that the illness threatens infants and young children who are at risk of severe symptoms and life-threatening complications.

Teens and adults may experience milder symptoms, but those with pre-existing health conditions and are unvaccinated can suffer from severe illness, it said.

“Early diagnosis and treatment are key to improving patient outcomes and reducing transmission.”

The Health department said it is working with local governments to break transmission.  “Vaccines are available, and more have been ordered.”

Infants as young as six weeks may be given the vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus for free at government health centers.

“Children from one to six years of age may get a booster dose,” it said, adding that older children and adults should consult a doctor for advice on the appropriate vaccine.

“Pregnant women may ask about the Tdap vaccine, which allows for protection of their soon to be born babies against pertussis.”  — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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