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Philippines on watch for infectious disease outbreaks

A makeshift latrine outside an evacuation centre in Tacloban. Heath authorities cite an increase in levels of open defecation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan on 8 November 2013, which left more than 4 million displaced
(Dennis Jay Santos/IRIN)

Health officials are on alert to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in areas stricken by Typhoon Haiyan.

“During this time of year, we can expect heavy rains and stagnant water from floods to become a cause for a possible increase in dengue cases,” said Julie Hall, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the Philippines.

In a recent report by WHO and the Philippine Department of Health (DOH), there were 84 dengue cases reported between 1 and 18 January. The cases were registered in the city of Ormoc, in Leyte Province in central Philippines, one of the areas worst hit by the category 5 typhoon, which killed more than 6,200 people. Almost 1,800 people are still missing.

“We have been issuing rapid-testing kits where we can test for dengue even without laboratory facilities,” said Hall, who noted that the reports did not come as a surprise, as diagnostics have become more readily available.

The local government and DOH are working together to clear debris left by the storm and clean out potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“We are also conducting fogging [in which a closed area is filled wih insecticidal spray] in repeated cycles to actively reduce mosquito populations,” Eric Tayag, head of the DOH National Epidemiology Centre, wrote in a text message to IRIN.

Measles outbreak

Before the typhoon, a measles outbreak in 2013 had already put health officials on alert. WHO said the country had nearly 950 confirmed cases of measles and nine deaths from January to 20 December 2013.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory infection with a rash and flu-like symptoms, and is spread by physical contact or coughing. Children and pregnant women are among those most vulnerable to the disease.

The Philippine DOH has a regular immunization programme for children under two years old, but reaching them has been challenging because families often move, Tayag was quoted as saying in international media.

“We [still] have to be on the look-out for measles in [areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as]… Yolanda, considering the number of children who have not been vaccinated, how many are living in closed quarters, and how infectious this disease is,” said Hall.

During 2010 and 2011, the Philippines had more than 6,000 confirmed cases of measles each year, a tally that came down to some 1,500 in 2012.

According to the WHO, measles is one of the leading causes of death in children worldwide, even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available. More than 95 percent of measles deaths occur in low-income countries, where both health infrastructure and systems are often weak.

The Philippine DOH said “catch-up” measles vaccination of children up to four years old, who had previously not been vaccinated, has been carried out in many evacuation centres where survivors have been living since the recent emergencies.

“The DOH continues to monitor diseases in Yolanda-stricken areas that may result [in] potential outbreaks, such as dengue [fever], leptospirosis, diarrhoeal diseases, and measles,” Tayag wrote in his text message. “Presently, there are no indications of actual outbreak.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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