DOH reports 49 pertussis deaths, assures continuous monitoring

2024 April 3

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) continues to monitor cases of pertussis or whooping cough in the Philippines, as it logged a total of 49 deaths since the beginning of this year.

As of March 23, the DOH has recorded at least 862 cases, most of whom are from Mimaropa (187), Metro Manila (158), Central Luzon (132), Central Visayas (121), and Western Visayas (72).

Of the total pertussis cases, 79 percent were under 5 years old.

At least 66 percent of these young children were either unvaccinated or did not know their vaccination history.

Adults aged 20 and older account for only 4 percent of cases, the DOH said.

“The DOH is cautious in interpreting trends as the number of cases may still change as there may be late consultations and reports,” it said in an advisory issued late Tuesday.

“Furthermore, the effects of increasing immunization efforts to stem the outbreak may not be seen in the data until 4-6 weeks after they are started,” it added.

Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said the DOH Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Units (RESUs) are in constant coordination with provincial, city, and municipal health offices to provide scientific advice.

“We are helping LGUs move to break transmission and protect children. Vaccines are available, and more have been ordered,” he added.

Beyond the Philippines, the DOH said there is also a sharp rise in pertussis cases overseas such as the United Kingdom, where 553 cases were recorded in England for January 2024 alone.

Pertussis starts as a mild cough and cold that lasts about two weeks, followed by paroxysms or fits of coughing which lasts up to six weeks.

There is a characteristic “whooping” or high-pitched sound (“huni”) in between coughs, especially when inhaling.

There can also be vomiting immediately after coughing, and low-grade fever.

Infants may not have a cough, instead, they may turn cyanotic or bluish when coughing.

Compared to cough found in other diseases, the DOH said the distinct “whoop” or high-pitched sound of pertussis is unique. Bronchial asthma may also have a similar sound, but only during asthma attacks and often without fever or other symptoms.

The DOH said a doctor will prescribe a course of treatment that should start as early as possible.

Depending on the antibiotic used and the age and condition of the patient, treatment may run from four to 14 days.

“It is important to consult a doctor and use antibiotics only as prescribed. Do not self-medicate, and always complete the number of days,” it warned.

The DOH said pertussis is transmitted from person to person through coughing or sneezing and advised the public to practice good respiratory hygiene: cover coughs and sneezing, wash hands often, or use alcohol if soap and water are not readily available.

“Since children may not be able to use face masks consistently, adults are highly encouraged to help protect them by wearing face masks properly, especially in areas with poor ventilation or crowded conditions,” it said.

Herbal medicines

Senator Francis Tolentino has recommended the use of herbal medicines to fight pertussis while the DOH is waiting for the arrival of the anti-pertussis pentavalent vaccine.

In a statement on Wednesday, Tolentino said lagundi or Vitex negundo L, herbal medicine for cough and cold, can be used against pertussis or whooping cough.

He said lagundi, which has an abundant supply in the Philippines, is also traditionally used to treat insect and snake bites, ulcers, rheumatism, sore throat, fever and clogged sinuses.

Tolentino, however, advised the public to consult first the doctor on lagundi prescription and preparation. 

Joyce Ann L. Rocamora (PNA)