Philippines declares epidemic after more than 600 die from dengue fever
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The Philippines declared a national epidemic Tuesday after an outbreak of dengue fever killed more than 622 people this year.

There have been more than 146,062 cases of dengue recorded between January and June 20, according to the country’s health department. The department said that the number of recorded cases is 98 percent higher than the same period in 2018.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said it was important for local areas to access national funds to treat the outbreak and provide a “localized response” in a Tuesday news release. During the week of July 14 to July 20, the country documented 10,502 cases, 71 percent higher than the same period in 2018.

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The Western Visayas area of the country was hit hardest, with more than 23,000 documented cases. There were also large outbreaks in Calabarzon, the Zamboanga Peninsula and Northern Mindanao. The Health Department said Tuesday it is launching a program aimed at destroying mosquito breeding sites.

Dengue is a viral infection spread by mosquitoes that can cause joint pain, vomiting, nausea and a rash. In extreme cases, it can cause breathing problems, hemorrhaging and organ failure, The Guardian reported.

The dengue vaccine was outlawed in the country after 14 children died out of more than 800,000 who received it in 2016 and 2017. However, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government may consider reintroducing the vaccine with the “utmost caution,” Reuters reported.

Sanofi, the drug giant that developed the vaccine, has denied that the deaths were linked to the vaccine. 

However, Duque said that even if the vaccine was reimplemented, it would not be given to children. It is approved for children ages 9 and older.

“This vaccine does not squarely address the most vulnerable group which is the 5-9 years of age,” Duque said, according to The Guardian.

Other countries in the region such as Malaysia and Vietnam are also struggling with dengue infections, and Bangladesh is facing its worst outbreak ever, according to the World Health Organization, The Guardian reported.