Measles outbreak declared in Metro Manila, Central Luzon

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday declared measles outbreak in Metro Manila and Central Luzon.

At least 861 suspected cases of measles, a highly infectious disease locally known as "tigdas," have been reported across the National Capital Region as of February 2, DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo told CNN Philippines. He described the number as "quite high," but assured the public that authorities are now responding to the outbreak.

Cities with the most number of cases include Manila, Caloocan, Marikina, Pasig, Navotas, Parañaque, Taguig, Pasay and Malabon.

Meanwhile, DOH's regional office in Central Luzon said more than 400 cases of measles have been recorded since January 1. Jesse Fantone, head of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit, confirmed five dead from measles.

Domingo said the low coverage of measles vaccinations contributed to the rise in measles cases.

DOH earlier warned of a possible outbreak, saying 2.4 million children have not received measles vaccinations. Ruby Constantino, DOH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau Director, said many parents say they fear to have their kids immunized because of the controversial Dengvaxia mess.

On January 29, President Rodrigo Duterte himself allayed fears of vaccines and urged parents to have their children vaccinated. He said parents should not be complacent when it comes to protecting their children's health.

READ: What you need to know about measles

DOH: Vaccinations will really save lives

Speaking to CNN Philippines Newsroom Wednesday, DOH Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said other areas may also experience increase in number of measles cases. This is to be expected, he said, due to the virus circulating in the country during the colder months.

"That was in December, and will continue to be transmitted to vulnerable population, especially children which did not get their vaccination against measles," he said.

Tayag said the department is still verifying reports on which areas have high measles cases, as they want to be sure before making any pronouncements.

Tayag said the measles vaccine will "really save lives."

He added that the people's fear of vaccines after the controversy surrounding the anti-dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, may have contributed to the current rise in measles cases, but there were also other factors to consider.

"For many years, we only have enough vaccine coverage that will not allow us to eliminate measles from the country, and so therefore, the number of suceptibles accumulate that would explain why there will be outbreaks," he said.

That's why the DOH had supplemental vaccination activities to catch up, Tayag added.

He said the primary reason behind the outbreak was that not enough children were getting vaccinated.

Tayag urged parents to have their children get vaccinated against measles to provide them lifelong immunity from the disease.

"Bakuna lang po talaga ang magiging pinakamainam na prevention po natin diyan. Yung magkakatigdas po, para naman hindi naman po nagkakaroon ng komplikasyon, ay kailangan po patignan niyo po kaagad 'yan," he said.

[Translation: The vaccine is the most effective prevention for that. Those who will get measles, so there won't be any complications, should be checked immediately.]