Statement | 2 April 2024

The Department of Health (DOH) continues to monitor and act on Pertussis (Filipino: Ubong Dalahit, o Tusperina) in the country. Data up to March 23, 2024 show a total of 862 cases since the start of the year (30 times that of the same period last year), with 49 deaths recorded. This sharp rise is also being seen in other countries such as the United Kingdom in Europe, where 553 cases were recorded in England for January 2024 alone.

The five Philippine regions reporting the most number of cases are MiMaRoPa (187), NCR (158), Central Luzon (132), Central Visayas (121), and Western Visayas (72).

Of the total Pertussis cases thus far recorded, 79% were less than 5 years old. At least six out of ten (66%) of these young children were either unvaccinated or did not know their vaccination history. Adults aged 20 and older account for only 4% of cases.

The DOH is cautious in interpreting trends as the number of cases may still change as there may be late consultations and reports. 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.

“Time is of the essence. Our 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,” said Health Secretary Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa.

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 present with cough; instead, they may turn cyanotic or bluish when coughing.

Compared to cough found in other diseases, 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 the other symptoms.

Pertussis is caused by bacteria – either Bordetella pertussis, or Bordetella parapertussis. Antibiotics are available and effective against them. 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 4 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.

Pertussis is a respiratory disease. It is transmitted from person to person through coughing or sneezing. This transmission may be prevented by good respiratory hygiene: cover coughs and sneezing – do so into disposable tissues/wipes, or the elbow or upper arm (not hands). 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.

Vaccination is safe and effective against Pertussis. 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 or health center for advice on the appropriate vaccine. Pregnant women may ask about the “Tdap” vaccine, which allows for protection of their soon to be born babies against Pertussis.