Twenty-five children have died of measles complications since the disease recurred in Vietnam late last year so many experts have recommended that the Ministry of Health declare the disease an epidemic.
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The recommendation was made after many health specialists found that the measles virus appears to have become more dangerous as it can damage the lungs of patients and thus claim their lives rapidly.
“There have been changes in the measles virus, which now can attack the lungs of child patients, causing rapid respiratory failure in many children who therefore had to rely on respirators,” said Dr. Nguyen Tien Dung, head of the Pediatrics Department of Hanoi-based Bach Mai Hospital.
Criteria for declaring a measles epidemic should be reviewed, according to Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem, former director of the Central Pediatrics Hospital, located in the capital.
The current measles situation is serious enough to be seen as a pandemic so such a declaration should be made, Dr. Liem said.
“Else people will not be aware of the danger a measles epidemic may pose,” Dr. Liem said.
Hospitals should shake hands with schools and the whole community to fight measles in order to combat the disease effectively, he added.
Dr. Pham Nhat An, deputy director of the Central Pediatrics Hospital, said that it is time for the health sector to declare measles an epidemic.
A delay may lead to a lack of vigilance among the public, contributing to the spread of the disease, Dr. An warned.
Measles is a benign disease but it can spread rapidly and 90 percent of children who have contact with measles-suffering peers may contract the measles virus, Dr. An said, adding that even adults can develop measles if their immune system fails to resist the virus.
The doctor said the Central Pediatrics Hospital every day receives 20 children with measles and many patients have had to share beds or lie down on the hospital’s corridor.
Measles can cause rapid immunodeficiency, leading to other ailments, including pneumonia and diarrhea, which can be very serious and even cause death, said Tran Dac Phu, head of the ministry’s Preventive Health Department.
'No virus changes reported'
Despite experts’ warning, Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said at a meeting last week that there is no report on any changes in the toxicity of the virus, which has two types: H1 commonly found in northern Vietnam and D8 rampant in the southern region.
At the meeting, the ministry said that the measles recurred in Vietnam in late 2013 and the agency has since taken measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
However, a number of experts said that it was not until February this year, when three children died of complications from measles, that the ministry began to take action to cope with the illness.
In addition, the ministry did not launch a national measles vaccination campaign until last month, when the measles tended to spread widely and rapidly, experts pointed out.