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  • After Measles, Dengue, and Polio, DOH Says Diphtheria Cases Also on the Rise

    It includes diphtheria, a bacterial infection that affects the nose and throat.
    by Kitty Elicay .
After Measles, Dengue, and Polio, DOH Says Diphtheria Cases Also on the Rise
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Amid the polio outbreak and the continuous rise of dengue and measles cases, the Department of Health (DOH) warned the public that other cases of infectious diseases have emerged in some parts of the country due to low vaccination coverage.

    On Tuesday, September 24, 2019, health officials said that cases of diphtheria, a bacterial infection affecting the nose and throat, were reported in some regions including the Cordillera Administrative Region.

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

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

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    What is diphtheria?

    Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheria. It spreads from person to person usually through respiratory droplets, like from coughing or sneezing. A person can also get sick by coming in contact with an object, like a toy, which contains the bacteria that causes diphtheria.

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    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bacteria can produce toxins that can lead to weakness, sore throat, fever, and swollen glands in the neck. The poison or toxin then destroys healthy tissues in a person’s respiratory system and within two to three days, a thick, gray coating called a “pseudomembrane” builds up in a person’s throat or nose.

    Diphtheria can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. The poison may also get into the bloodstream and damage the heart, nerves, and kidneys.

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    DPT vaccine for diptheria

    Vaccination is still the most effective prevention for these kinds of infectious diseases. Three doses of the DTP (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccine are recommended starting at six weeks of age followed by three booster shots. The first dose of DPT vaccine should be given at around two months, the second at four months, the third at six months. The booster shots should start at around 15 to 18 months, with the second shot given when the child is 4 to 6 years old. The third and final dose is recommended during adolescence.

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    The DPT vaccine also gives protection to other diseases like tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). It is included in the Childhood Immunization Schedule prepared by the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP). The vaccine is given for free in health centers nationwide.

    According to recent data from the DOH, there is a relatively low incidence of diphtheria in the country. In 2018, 55 confirmed cases of diphtheria were reported, including 13 deaths. However, due to low immunization rates, it is possible for these infectious diseases to re-emerge, according to DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau.

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    As the Philippines faces a slew of outbreaks, funds for health services in the national budget for 2020 were reduced by about Php10 billion. Former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin expressed her dismay that there was a cut when a “string of epidemics,” are afflicting the country.

    “How can we then describe the status of the DOH budget under the proposed budget? Quick answer: it seems health is not a priority for those in government who are supposed to display compassion,” she said in a speech delivered after the House passed House Bill No. 4228, which is the general appropriations bill.

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    The DOH had earlier reported that the country’s immunization rate fell to only 40 percent in 2018. Their immunization programs are also understaffed, which reduces the face-to-face interactions between health workers and parents, something that is crucial especially when it comes to explaining the importance of vaccines to people who have a lack of understanding for it.

    “Be it in public or private settings, communication is critical, and although we do have social media platforms for health promotions with diligent posting, there is still no replacement for face-to-face communication. Interpersonal communication really assures the parent because that’s the human aspect of assuring them that the vaccines are safe,” Calibo said.

    Want to see which vaccines are recommended for your child from birth up to the first year of his life? Click here to get the full list.

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