UAE: Filipino mums take precautions as whooping cough kills 54 kids back home

Doctors share guidelines on mandatory vaccinations in the UAE and how parents can keep their babies safe from the deadly virus


Kirstin Bernabe

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Published: Sat 13 Apr 2024, 1:42 PM

Last updated: Mon 15 Apr 2024, 3:28 PM

Filipinos expats in the UAE, who are travelling home with their children, have expressed concerned over the rising cases of whooping cough in the Philippines — especially since recent deaths involved babies.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that mainly affects young kids and can be deadly for those under two years old. Like Covid-19, it can be spread easily through airborne droplets by coughing and sneezing.

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From January 1 to March 30, Philippine authorities have recorded 1,112 cases of the disease — including 54 deaths. All those who died were under five years old, according to the Department of Health.

Dubai resident KC Español has been closely following the updates on the outbreak since she will be flying home with her 11-month-old baby for the first time.

"So far, there are no reported cases in our hometown in Pangasinan province. But since we will be staying in Manila for a few days, we will take extra precautions."

Two cities and a province have so far declared a whooping cough outbreak in the Philippines. Quezon City in Manila recorded 25 cases and five deaths as of March 21, while Iloilo City in the province of Iloilo had seven cases. Cavite province detected 36 cases and six deaths, according to a Rappler report.

When in Manila, Español said they would avoid crowded areas like malls. "We also won't allow anyone to kiss our baby."

Jannah Biba, who lives in Fujairah, is worried, too, as she will be travelling with her two-year-old child in three weeks.

"I'm preparing as early as now," she said. "We, including our toddler, have been taking Vitamin C supplements to boost our immunity. For the flight, I'm also preparing sanitisers, face masks, and extra clothes for my baby."

Mandatory vaccinations in UAE

Whooping cough has been around for ages — with the first cases dating back to as early as the 16th century, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is a serious disease, the younger the infant the more serious the disease will be ... It leads to severe attacks of coughing which decreases the oxygen taken by the infant," said Dr Mazen Abou Chaaban, a paediatrician at Fakeeh University Hospital, Dubai.

Dr Mazen Abou Chaaban
Dr Mazen Abou Chaaban

Caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis, it is called whooping cough because of the sound the affected patient usually makes when coughing, said Dr Azenith Limpalan Tammang-Casas, a paediatrician at Prime Hospital.

"The disease usually affect babies, young children and immunocompromised individuals. Though teens and adults may also be infected, the symptoms may just be mild," she said.

Since the disease is not new, vaccines have long been formulated against it. In fact, this shot is among the mandatory vaccines given to babies and children in the UAE.

"It is one component of the mandatory six-in-one vaccines — which include protection against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B and polio," Dr Casas said.

This combination vaccine is given to babies at 2, 4, 6 months, she said. Boosters shots are also given at 18 months, 5 years old, and 10 years old.

"If the child is fully vaccinated, the possibility of getting it is very low and, if they do get it, it will be mild," said Dr Abou Chaaban.

How to protect your baby

Even with vaccinations, however, Dr Casas still urges parents to be careful since no jab can promise 100 per cent protection.

Dr Azenith Limpalan Tammang-Casas
Dr Azenith Limpalan Tammang-Casas

"With babies' immune system still not mature enough, they can easily catch the infection. So, it is still highly recommended to keep them away from crowds and enclosed spaces," she said.

When travelling to places with declared outbreaks like the Philippines, good hand hygiene is also advised.

"Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wear a face mask in enclosed spaces and in crowded areas," she said.

Should adults be vaccinated?

Pregnant women are among the immunocompromised individuals who are usually given another version of the vaccine.

But about an average adult? Should they be vaccinated, too?

Dr Abou Chaaban said adults who live in the UAE are most likely vaccinated against the disease. "If ever not vaccinated, then I would recommend them to get vaccinated against whooping cough (Tdap) if travelling to an area with outbreak," he said.

"Precaution is always recommended," he added. "Revisit your vaccination records and consult your family medicine physician."

Dubai-based mum Roxane Negrillo, who is currently with her 14-year-old son in the Philippines, said the outbreak may not be visible in the places that she visited but they observed usual safety measures.

"Whenever we travel, we are always cautious. We always sanitise our hands and we have masks in case we need to wear them if ever we encounter people, who are sick or coughing. We also take vitamins," she said.

Overall, living a healthy lifestyle can help one fight the disease, Dr Casas said.

"Proper diet, hydration, sufficient sleep would help," she said. "Anything that can strengthen one's immune system is good so that even if you encounter an outbreak of a disease, you'll have better protection."

(With inputs from Angel Tesorero)


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