By Analou De Vera and Marjaleen Ramos
The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday declared for the first time a National Dengue Alert due to “rapidly” increasing number of dengue cases reported in several regions in the country.
“This is the first time we’re declaring a national alert. The objective is very clear, we want to raise awareness among the public and more importantly in communities wHere signs of early dengue increases are evident. So, this is something that we think is an important announcement,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III AT a press conference at the DOH-Central Office in Manila.
In the latest data of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, a total of 106,630 dengue cases, including 450 deaths have already been recorded nationwide from January 1 to June 29. The figure is 85 percent higher compared to the same period last year, which is 57, 564, the health chief said.
Most cases were recorded in Western Visayas (13,164 cases), Calabarzon (11,474 cases), Central Visayas (9,199 cases), Soccsksargen (9,107 cases), and Northern Mindanao (8,739 cases).
Duque said there is no national epidemic as cases are localized.
“We don’t have a national epidemic, it’s localized […] in the most regional levels which I have mentioned. the top among the regions would be Western Visayas followed by Calabarzon, Central Visayas, SOCCSKSARGEN, and Northern Mindanao. Again, there is no national epidemic but there is certainly regional,” he emphasized.
Areas including Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Calabarzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Cordillera Administrative Region were in the alert threshold.
The health secretary said that peak in dengue cases have been observed every three to four years.
“The last peak occurred in 2016. Given this pattern, the DOH expects an increase in cases this year,” he said.
“Let me just stress that the observed dengue spikes every three to four years is really a phenomenon; no science is able to explain it, except for circumstantial evidence of climate change and other factors,” he noted.
Nothing to do with Dengvaxia controversy
Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo underscored that the spike in dengue cases has nothing to do with the scare brought by the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy.
“The incidence is not affected by the lower vaccination in the past few years and also we find no connection between the areas where dengue vaccination was given previously, and the number of cases that we’re having now…There is no relation in that,” he said.
Not just in the Philippines
World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative Dr. Gundo Weiler said that the increase in dengue cases is not just happening in the Philippines but also in some other parts of the world.
“Maybe I can just say a few words about the broader context because what the Philippines is experiencing is also happening in other countries. So, the situation is not so unique in the Philippines. Dengue globally is a huge issue,” he said.
“More than half of the world’s population is living in areas where there is exposure to dengue,” he added.
Weiler said that countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore are also experiencing dengue outbreaks.
Weiler advised the public to brace for a “severe dengue epidemic.”
“As you consider the number that you’ve seen for this year, we have to brace for a severe dengue epidemic this year, we welcome the DOH effort to alert the population,” he said.
“We welcome the alert that the DOH is issuing because the number one response for this situation will be to increase community awareness, so we really welcome this opportunity here,” he added.
Simple measures to fight dengue
Health officials reiterated that the most effective way to avoid dengue is still the ‘4s’ strategy.
The 4s strategy stands for Search and destroy mosquito breeding places, Self-protective measures like wearing long sleeves and use of insect repellent, Seek early consultation on the first signs and symptoms of the disease, and Say yes to fogging if there is an impending outbreak.
The health chief noted that signs and symptoms of dengue include severe headache, pain behind the eyes, severe joint and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and skin rashes.
W.Visayas dengue outbreak
With the most cases of the mosquito-borne disease, the DOH has placed Western Visayas region with the exception of Negros Occidental province under dengue outbreak.
Secretary Duque made the declaration Monday after approving the recommendation made by Dr. Marlyn Convocar, DOH Western Visayas regional director, at a teleconference.
The outbreak for the dengue hemorrhagic fever covers Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, and Iloilo provinces as well as Iloilo City, the regional capital.
Duque placed Negros Occidental province including its capital city of Bacolod under alert status.
Data from DOH-6’s Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (RESU-6) found there are 15,746 dengue cases with 87 deaths in Western Visayas from January 1 to July 6, 2019. This is a 236-percent increase for the same period of last year when there were only 4,684 dengue cases and 40 deaths.
Aside from the actual number of cases, Convocar said the attack rate of the dengue hemorrhagic fever is very crucial in terms of population. Currently, the attack rate in the region is pegged at 200 percent.
Duque has also given permission to DOH-6 Western Visayas office to realign its resources and manpower to combat the rising number cases.
For instance, school-based immunization against measles has been temporarily halted for two months while scheduled trainings for DOH-6 personnel have been canceled. These personnel are being reassigned to government hospitals and rural health units (RHUs) across the region.
“We want to focus our services on dengue patients,” Convocar emphasized.
While most of the deaths are children, dengue has also killed a police officer and a government nurse. Police Staff Sergeant Marvin Borres Dalumpit, who was assigned in Sam Remegio town of Antique province, and Edniel Gamboa, a nurse from Numancia town of Aklan province, both died late last month from complications of dengue.
In Capiz province
Capiz became the third province in Western Visayas region to have a dengue outbreak.
Governor Esteban Evan Contreras signed Executive Order No. 2019-001 after dengue cases went beyond the five-year epidemic threshold.
The Capiz Epidemiological Surveillance and Response Unit (CESRU) of the Provincial Health Office found a 771-percent spike in dengue cases from January 1 to June 29, 2019. There were 2,177 dengue cases with 14 deaths. In comparison, there were only 250 dengue cases with no fatalities during the same period of last year.
The capital city of Roxas, led by Mayor Ronnie Dadivas, separately declared a dengue outbreak while the towns of Pontevedra and President Roxas are both under a state of calamity due to dengue.