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DOH assures public: Pertussis is treatable, can be prevented

Did you know that pertussis or whooping cough is treatable and can be prevented? 

Health experts cautioned the public against spreading “fake news” that could cause unnecessary panic due to the declaration of outbreak in Quezon City and other parts of the country, since the disease is treatable and can be prevented.

Pertussis is a bacterial infection that's risen to outbreak levels in Quezon City, Iloilo, and Cavite recently. 

In adults, the symptoms can be mild, but if the infection affects an infant who hasn't completed a full course of vaccinations, whooping cough can be very serious.

Eighteen month-old Richard, a resident of Barangay Bagong Pag-asa in Quezon City, had symptoms that started out like those of a typical cold. He had a runny nose and started coughing. 

But over the next four to five days, Richard's mom, Karen said the coughing got worse. It was nothing she'd ever heard before. The baby was coughing and doing a whoop. He'd vomit, and he couldn't catch his breath. 

When they took Richard to the nearest health center, the coughing had subsided, so they figured maybe it was just a cold or some other infection.

But Karen knew there was something else wrong. So the next time Richard had a coughing fit, her husband got it on a cellphone video. A nurse practitioner saw it and diagnosed it right away as pertussis.

Richard and his entire family took antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent further spread. Now he's back to health after weeks of illness.

According to the Department of Health (DOH), vaccination is also safe and effective against pertussis. 

As of March 25, there are 64,400 doses of “pentavalent” vaccines in the country. The DOH is expecting 3 million more pentavalent doses arriving at the soonest possible time. 

Pentavalent vaccines include protection against “DPT” (Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus), in addition to Hepatitis B and Hemophilus influenza type B. 

Infants as young as 6 weeks may already be given this vaccine for free at government health centers. Children from 1-6 years of age may get a booster dose. Older children, as well as adults are advised to consult a doctor on what vaccine is appropriate . 

Pregnant women, on the other hand, may ask about the “Tdap” vaccine, which allows for protection of their soon to be born babies against pertussis.

The medical field has known pertussis for a long time now. We have antibiotics that can treat it. Vaccines are safe and effective against whooping cough; DOH is redistributing on hand doses to where they are needed the most. In consultation with President Marcos, I have already ordered to fast-track the arrival of 3 million more doses. Please be assured while also being alert. We can fight this,” said Health Secretary Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa.

(Philippine Information Agency photo)

According to Dr. Dean Hernando A. Zenarosa, medical consultant of the Philippine Information Agency, pertussis is caused by a bacterial infection that is spread from one person with whooping cough to another person. 

Whooping cough is also particularly tough on kids younger than Richard who haven't had the full course of vaccinations. Those belonging to this age group are particularly susceptible to getting infection, and because of their small airway, they're particularly susceptible to having very severe disease. 

Zenarosa shared the following tips on dealing with coughing spells apply to anyone being treated for whooping cough at home:

  • Get plenty of rest. A cool, quiet and dark bedroom may help you relax and rest better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice and soups are good choices. In children, especially, watch for signs of  dehydration, such as dry lips, crying without tears and infrequent urination.
  • Eat smaller meals. To avoid vomiting after coughing, eat smaller, more-frequent meals rather than large ones.
  • Clean the air. Keep your home free of irritants that can trigger coughing spells, such as tobacco smoke and fumes from fireplaces.
  • Prevent transmission. Cover your cough and wash your hands often; if you must be around others, wear a mask.

Meanwhile, the DOH, the DOH Metro Manila Center for Health Development, and City Health Officers (CHOs) of each local government unit in the National Capital Region discussed interventions against pertussis cases on Tuesday, March 26, at the DOH Central Office in Manila.

A health official presents some data on pertussis. (Photo courtesy: DOH)

The DOH said the discussion focused on the implementation of heightened surveillance and more aggressive routine immunization activities.

National health officials and their local counterparts discuss some of the strategies the region will adopt to combat pertussis. (Photo courtesy: DOH)

Health Undersecretary Nestor Santiago and Metro Manila Center for Health Development Regional Director Rio Magpantay discussed with the CHOs updates on the pertussis cases, actions taken by the LGUs, assistance needed by every city in Metro Manila, implementation of heightened surveillance, and more aggressive routine immunization activities.

In a social media post, the DOH said pertussis starts as a mild cough and cold that lasts about two weeks and is followed by paroxysms or fits of coughing which lasts up to six weeks. The disease is also treatable.

The disease is characterized by a whooping or high-pitched sound in between coughs, especially when inhaling; vomiting immediately after coughing; and low-grade fever.

Infants with pertussis may turn cyanotic or bluish when coughing.

Pertussis is caused by bacteria – either bordetella pertussis, or bordetella parapertussis. Antibiotics are available and effective against them and depending on the antibiotic used and the age and condition of the patient, treatment may run from 4 to 14 days,” the DOH said.

The agency advised everyone to consult a doctor and not self-medicate in case of symptoms. Pertussis transmission may be prevented by covering coughs and sneezes, regular and proper handwashing, and vaccination.

As of deadline time, the DOH reported that the number of pertussis cases in the country reached 568 with 40 deaths from January 1 to March 16, 2024, with Metro Manila having the highest number of infections at 58.

Some 28 new cases were recorded from March 10 to 16, the DOH said.

Regions with the most number of local government units showing case increases thus far are Calabarzon, National Capital Region (NCR), Western Visayas, Mimaropa, and Central Visayas. NCR accounted for 27 percent (58 cases) of the total confirmed cases among all regions,” the DOH added.

Of the total, at least six out of 10 cases (356 or 62.7 percent) were infants below six months old. Three out of four (270 cases or 75.8 percent) of these infants were either unvaccinated or with unknown vaccination history.

While close to seven out of 10 (384 cases, 67.6 percent) of the total number of cases regardless of age either failed to receive any immunization or with unknown vaccination history, the DOH said.

The number of new pertussis cases did rise from the weeks of February 4 and 11 (122 cases) to the weeks of February 18 and 25 (149 cases). This has gone down to only 73 new cases in the weeks of March 3 and 10,” the DOH noted. (JCO/PIA-NCR)

About the Author

Jerome Carlo Paunan

Regional Editor

National Capital Region

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