Diphtheria cases also up in some parts of PH – Health dept

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 24)— Apart from polio, health officials warned that cases of other infectious diseases have also emerged in some parts of the country due to low vaccination coverage.

The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said cases of diphtheria—a bacterial infection affecting the nose and throat—were reported in a number of regions including the Cordillera Administrative Region.

“In the last few months, we have also discussed as well several cases of diphtheria emerging as well in some regions of the Philippines,” DOH medical specialist Anthony Calibo said during a Senate hearing on the government’s immunization program.

“There was also an issue of availability of diphtheria anti-toxin because that will also be an important management for those diagnosed with diphtheria,” he added.

Individuals affected by diphtheria, an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria, would develop a thick covering called “pseudomembranes” at the back of their throats. These thick layers block the person’s airways, causing difficulty in breathing.

In severe cases, the disease can also weaken the heart muscles, cause chest pains, and may even lead to heart failure.

Data from the DOH shows a relatively low incidence of diphtheria in the Philippines in the past few years. From January to September 2019, there were a total of 167 cases, including 40 deaths due to the disease. The numbers were higher than the cases recoreded in the same period in 2018, when there were 122 cases and 30 deaths.

Vaccination remains as the most successful and cost-effective prevention for the disease, the World Health Organization said. In the Philippines, infants are encouraged to undergo three doses of the combination vaccine DPT to counter diphtheria.

The Health Department’s Epidemiology Bureau earlier attributed the prevalence and reemergence of infectious diseases to the low immunization coverage in the country.

RELATED: Delayed vaccine schedule caused 2nd PH polio case - DOH-CALABARZON

DOH said the immunization programs is understaffed.

“Clearly, the statistics has been really alarming. And I think it's more of really how a good complement of human resources will be able to muster that momentum from top down. Because right now, the immunization program is really understaffed,” Calibo said.

“The immunization unit is of prime importance. It looks into really effective monitoring systems, and really providing timely technical assistance to local government units that may be at risk as well,” he added.

This story has been updated to reflect new data from the Health Department.