Japanese encephalitis vaccine now routine for children in the Philippines

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Japanese Encephalitis vaccine is now routine for children in the Philippines due to the steady rise of cases. Knowing what the disease is all about and how to prevent it is crucial for your child's protection.

Japanese Encephalitis is probably something that you've heard of on the news, or maybe you learned about it after hearing about the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine. But what exactly is this disease, and what can parents do to keep their children safe?

What is Japanese Encephalitis?

In the 19th century, health care workers were at a loss as recurring encephalitis outbreaks devastated Japan. Patients suffered from fever, headaches, vomiting, weakness, movement disorders, seizures, confusion, inability to speak, paralysis, and in some cases, even death.

But what was causing these outbreaks? In 1871, the first clinical case of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) was documented in Japan. Since then, the country has suffered numerous large outbreaks of the disease.

This fatal disease quickly spread to other East and Southeast Asian countries. In Korea, the first cases of JE occurred in 1933. Cases of JE were later reported in China in 1940.  In the Philippines, the earliest reports of JE cases were recorded in the early 1950’s, although JE antibodies were identified in Philippine horses as early as 1943.

Learn more about why children need the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine on the next page...

What is the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine?

Despite its long history, however, I had never heard of the JE virus. So, it came as quite a shock to me that not only did I have to protect my children against dengue, but I also had to protect them from another mosquito-borne illness.

This revelation came when I took my children to their pediatrician to update their vaccines. While discussing future vaccines that my kids need, the good doctor gave me a brochure on JE.

I learned that due to the rise of JE cases in the Philippines, JE vaccination has recently been included in the array of routine vaccines for children. The news, as you can imagine, did not sit well with me.

His arms and feet were blue

Two years ago, my son was brought to the emergency room of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City after a day and a half of high fever. His complete blood count showed a decreased platelet level.

His arms and feet were blue--a danger sign indicating that the virus was affecting blood circulation.

We are usually told to observe a feverish patient for three days. But after only one and a half days of fever, my son was classified as stage 3 dengue. That is how aggressive dengue can be!

The experience was traumatic for our family, to say the least. And so finding out about JE had me in panic mommy mode, and I browsed the internet to find out more about the disease.

Japanese Encephalitis is a viral brain infection that is closely related to West Nile encephalitis, dengue, and yellow fever. Mosquitoes, particularly the Culex tritaeniorhynchus mosquito, pick up the virus from feeding on infected birds and pigs.

Japanese Encephalitis vaccine

Infected mosquitoes can then transmit the virus to humans through their bites. Culex Tritaeniorhynchus are commonly found in areas where there are wading birds, pig farms, and rice paddies.

3 billion people might be at risk

“Twenty-four countries…in Southeast and Western Pacific regions have endemic JE transmissions, exposing more than three billion people to risks of infection,” reads a fact sheet by the World Health Organization.

The WHO estimates that there are almost 68,000 clinical cases of JE infections annually, resulting in a 13,600 to 20,400 deaths.

Most JEV infections, do not show symptoms, but, also according to WHO, approximately 1 out of 250 infections will rapidly progress into severe complications, such as inflammation of the brain, seizures (in 66% of cases, especially children), loss of speech, disorientation, paralysis, coma, and eventually death.

What is the incidence rate of JE in the Philippines? Find out on the next page

50% of survivors develop neurological problems

Of the 60,000 annual cases, 25% or around 15,000 will result in death, particularly in children. Fifty percent of or 22, 500 survivors develop permanent intellectual, behavioural, and neurological problems, such as recurring seizures, paralysis, and loss of speech.

In the Philippines, JEV has been documented in Metro Manila and in 32 other provinces located in various regions. Suspected JEV cases have been reported in 68 out of the country’s 81 provinces and major cities, strongly indicating that the disease is, in fact, endemic in the archipelago. Sixty-eight percent of the cases were of children below 15 years old, while cases involving children less than 19 years old accounted for 85% of cases.

Due to all-year-round rainfall, the disease is common in the Philippines throughout the year. It reaches peak levels in June and July, and abates in November.

There is no cure for Japanese Encephalitis

There is currently no cure for JE infections. Patients are generally hospitalized for supportive treatment as symptoms appear. As such, the WHO strongly recommends using Japanese Encephalitis vaccine against the disease. The Japanese encephalitis vaccine costs 3, 500 per shot (at least that is the price in St. Lukes, Quezon City), and may be administered to children as young as 2 years old. The vaccine provides protection in 9 of 10 people who receive it.

Of course, it would also help to establish other preventive measures, such as applying insect repellent on exposed skin, wearing proper clothing (long-sleeves, long pants, and socks if weather permits), avoiding exposure to mosquitoes during peak feeding hours, making sure your doors and windows are well-screened, and installing bed nets.

READ: 5 Reasons why you should Vaccinate your child 

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