Following reports of nine deaths caused by Japanese Encephalitis, parents have expressed concern over the safety of their families. What is Japanese encephalitis? How can we protect our families against it? Is a vaccine available for Japanese encephalitis?
A media roundtable with Dr. Salvacion Gatchalian, vice president of the Philippine Pediatrics Society, and Dr. Marie Rose delos Reyes, president of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, as resource persons brought out important points which all parents need to know about Japanese Encephalitis.
#1 The Japanese Encephalitis virus is spread by infected mosquitoes of the Culex species. The virus can cause inflammation of the brain, leading to high fever, headache, fatigue, vomiting, confusion, and in severe cases seizures, spastic paralysis, and coma.
Dr. Gatchalian says there is no specific treatment for Japanese encephalitis. It is fatal in 20 to 30 percent of cases, and 30 to 50 percent of survivors end up suffering from permanent disabilities.
#2 There are three billion people in transmission risk areas in 24 Southeast Asian and Western Pacific countries, including the Philippines. Japanese Encephalitis maybe found in all regions of the Philippines with a year-round transmission.
#3 Children 15 years old and below are most vulnerable to the disease.
#4 According to the Department of Health (DOH), 133 patients have been diagnosed with Japanese Encephalitis between January 1 to August 26, 2017. Majority of which occurred in the one to nine age group. Fifty-three cases were recorded in Central Luzon, the most number of which were found in the province of Pampanga. Nine deaths were recorded.
#5 Disease prevention involves avoiding mosquito bites by using insect repellent and bed nets, wearing proper clothing, and reducing exposure during peak biting hours, which is from dusk to dawn. One may also practice vector control measures by cleaning up mosquito breeding places like water pools, flooded grassy areas and rice fields, and ditches.
#6 Vaccination is the best means of prevention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Japanese Encephalitis should be integrated into national immunization programs in all areas where it is recognized as a public health priority. Even in countries with low number of cases, vaccination should be considered where there is a suitable environment for the transmission of the Japanese Encephalitis virus.
In its official statement, the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases declares that vaccination is the most effective strategy to prevent and control Japanese Encephalitis. Vaccination should be considered where there is a suitable environment for the transmission of the Japanese Encephalitis virus.
#7 The Philippine Pediatrics Society recommends vaccination for children 9 months to 17 years. The primary dose should be followed by a booster dose one to two years after. This is in line with recommendations by WHO as well as the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines and Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
#8 The JE-chimeric vaccine (JE-VC), a live attenuated recombinant vaccine, was first licensed in the Philippines in 2013. The vaccine is produced by Vero cell culture, a cell culture technology recommended by WHO. Because it is a live attenuated vaccine, it is not recommended for pregnant women. Sanofi Pasteur is the duly licensed manufacturer of the vaccine.
#9 The Food and Drug Administration warned the public against purchasing the vaccines online as these sellers are not authorized to distribute the vaccine. Further, the integrity and safety of these online products have not been verified. Parents who want to get their children vaccinated would do best to consult their doctor.