The Department of Health (DOH) disclosed that two (2) suspected meningococcemia cases, from Laguna and Batangas, were confirmed positive for Neisseria meningitidis based on the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine laboratory results. The Department is awaiting the laboratory confirmation of five (5) more suspected meningococcemia cases.

“As of the moment, there is no meningococcemia outbreak in the country,” DOH Assistant Secretary of the Public Health Services Team Maria Rosario Vergeire declared, “as cases are sporadic in nature and are not clustering.”

From January to September 21, 2019, the DOH Epidemiology Bureau has recorded 169 cases with 88 deaths (case fatality rate of 52%). This is slightly higher than the cases recorded in same period last year, 162 cases with 78 deaths. Most of the cases (79%) reported were not laboratory confirmed, presenting a gap in confirming the magnitude of the disease.

“We are closely coordinating with our regional office for contact tracing. We are providing post-exposure prophylaxis to close contacts of the patients, and are monitoring them for any signs and symptoms of meningococcemia,” Assistant Secretary Vergeire added. Meningococcal disease is a rare, but very serious illness caused by a bacterial called Neisseria meningitidis. It presents first with nonspecific signs and symptoms such as cough, headache, and sore throat, followed by upper respiratory symptoms, fever, chills, malaise, nausea, vomiting and skin rashes. It can quickly progress and manifest with lethargy, difficulty of breathing, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, seizures, hemorrhagic eruptions, purpuric and petechial skin lesion, and hypotension. In 15% of the cases, death can occur within a few hours.

 Because of the severity and rapid progression of the disease, early diagnosis and immediate treatment with antibiotics are vital. “I advise individuals experiencing symptoms of meningococcemia to go the nearest hospital immediately,” Assistant Secretary Vergeire emphasized.

The disease is spread person-to-person through exchange of respiratory and throat secretions from coughing, kissing, or sharing of utensils. However, this disease does not spread as easily as common colds or influenza as the bacteria causing the disease cannot survive outside of the human host.

“This is a deadly but highly preventable disease,” Assistant Secretary Vergeire reiterated. For protection, antibiotic prophylaxis and vaccination can be given to exposed individuals. “I urge the public to practice good personal hygiene such as regular handwashing, and covering of mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of this disease,” Vergeire concluded.