Whooping cough cases surge to 21 in Western Visayas

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By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

The resurgence of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in Western Visayas has prompted the national government to urge parents to ensure their children, particularly infants, are fully vaccinated to curb the disease’s spread.

The Department of Health (DOH) in Western Visayas reported 21 cases as of March 15, comprising 13 confirmed, 3 probable, and 5 suspect cases, localized in three areas: Iloilo province with 10 cases, Iloilo City with 9, and Capiz with 2.

The infection has only been present in 3 areas so far according to the regional health office, including Iloilo province (10), Iloilo City (9), and Capiz (2).

They have already called out to parents to have their children complete their vaccinations, as pertussis inoculation is part of the ‘pentavalent’ vaccine, which prevents 5 diseases within 3 jabs.

Other diseases prevented by the same vaccine include diphtheria, tetanus, hib, and hepatitis B.

In a press release, the DOH’s central office linked the nationwide increase of pertussis and other vaccine-preventable diseases to the lifting of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The national health office cited their 5-year pertussis data, which indicated that there have been 453 recorded cases nationwide within the first 10 weeks of 2024.

The pre- and post-COVID pandemic years also recorded moderate pertussis case figures within the same 10-week time frame, including in 2019 (52), 2020 (27), and 2023 (23).

But cases significantly dipped during the pandemic years, including in 2021 (7) and 2022 (2).

“Experts surmise that the international lifting of COVID-19 as a public health emergency, which allowed for more mobility among populations returning to schools and workplaces may have also heightened the transmission of diseases that could have otherwise been prevented by vaccines,” the DOH’s March 21 press release read.

“This also indicates that in many areas worldwide, vaccination coverage even before the pandemic may have been lower than what public health requires,” they added.

The same press release mentioned that DOH Secretary Teodoro Herbosa has raised their alert status to ‘Code Blue’ for vaccine-preventable diseases as of Wednesday, March 20.

This connotes intensified activities to mitigate the spread of the virus through vaccination, micronutrient supplementation, community engagement, and risk communication.

This protocol is applied not only to pertussis, but also to other vaccine-preventable diseases common to newborns and infants such as measles, rubella, and polio.

The health department has also advised to return to the practices observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including voluntary use of a best-fit mask and staying at home when sick, cleaning hands often, and choosing areas with good airflow.

Pertussis or whooping cough (also known as “ubong-dalahit” or “tuspirina” in Filipino) is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection that causes influenza-like symptoms of mild fever, colds, and progressive coughs within 7 to 10 days after exposure.

The cough in typical cases will start from simple coughs but is bound to develop into a characteristic hacking cough.

It is treatable with antibiotics, but the DOH and international health authorities have highly recommended vaccinations to prevent infection and mitigate its spread.


The Iloilo Provincial Health Office’s (IPHO) own data has already indicated that there have been 16 cases (9 confirmed and 7 suspect) as of March 16.

The confirmed cases come from Santa Barbara (2) and Tubungan, Cabatuan, Banate, Pavia, San Joaquin, Dumangas, and Balasan (1 each), with the two latter towns already dead.

Miag-ao recorded 2 suspect cases (1 alive and 1 dead), also with at least one suspect case from Dumangas, Anilao, Badiangan, Concepcion, and Guimbal.

The distinction between the IPHO’s and the DOH-Western Visayas’ figures means that the regional office is still validating the provincial government’s data.

IPHO spokesperson Dr. Wendel Marcelo on Wednesday reiterated the call for parents to have their children with their local health centers, observe minimal health practices, and consult immediately when symptoms persist.

“The most effective way to avoid [being infected by] pertussis, which is a vaccine-preventable disease, is vaccination of babies. Vaccines against pertussis are part of routine immunizations, included in pentavalent vaccines given when they reach one and a half months old, for three doses,” Marcelo explained.

“To prevent the spread of pertussis and other transmissible diseases, we should continue to practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette, handwashing, and isolation when having symptoms, and having children consulted with the nearest [health] center or doctor,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Iloilo City, the Iloilo City Health Office (ICHO) has recorded 10 pertussis cases (5 confirmed and 5 suspect).

ICHO data indicated a slow rise in pertussis cases in the city, with 0 in 2021, 2 suspect cases in 2022, and 1 confirmed and 1 suspect case in 2023.

The confirmed cases are from Molo (3) and Jaro (2) districts, the youngest being a 6-month-old female from Calumpang village, and the oldest a 6-year-old male from MV Hechanova village.

The remaining suspect cases include 3 which are pending confirmation and 2 which have been tagged as negative for the infection.

The city government’s Health and Sanitation Cluster has recommended the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council declare a pertussis outbreak in the two districts.

The ICHO has also called on parents to have their children complete their vaccinations, with inoculations available at all 9 district health centers.