Dengue cases and deaths continue to surge in the Philippines, prompting the Department of Health to declare on Tuesday the country’s dengue outbreak a national epidemic, Xinhua reported.

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the move is to allow local governments to draw on a special quick response fund needed in the fight against the mosquito-borne viral disease.

From January to July 20 this year, Duque said the health department had recorded some 146,000 dengue cases across the country, or 98% more than the same period in 2018. The outbreak has caused 622 deaths, he added.

Duque said it is important to declare a national epidemic to identify where the localized response is needed and enable local government units to use their quick response to address the situation, the report said.

From July 14-20 alone, Duque said the Department of Health had recorded 10,502 dengue cases in 14 regions nationwide. This was 71% higher than the figures gathered in the same period in 2018, he added.

Last month, the government declared a national dengue alert and urged regional health offices to step up their response in primary health facilities and hospitals, vector control and logistics support for dengue control such as insecticides, rapid diagnostics tests and medicine.

The government is undertaking a nationwide public information campaign to follow what it calls as the “4S method” which stands for “search and destroy” mosquito-breeding sites, employ “self-protection measures” such as wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts, and daily use of mosquito repellent, “seek early consultation,” and “support fogging or spraying” in areas where an increase in cases is registered for two consecutive weeks to prevent an impending outbreak.

Dengue cases in the Philippines have been observed to peak every three to four years. The last peak occurred in 2016. Given the pattern, the health department expects an increase in cases this year, the report said.

Signs and symptoms of the disease are severe headache, pain behind the eyes, severe joint and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and skin rashes. Effective surveillance helps in reducing cases and deaths if areas with clustering of cases are identified early.

Meanwhile government officials at Malacanang say they are open to making the controversial Dengvaxia vaccines available in the market again in the wake of continuously rising cases of dengue, the reported.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo has said that President Rodrigo Duterte is “open to anything that will benefit the Filipino people” after former Health Secretary Janette Garin urged the government to “listen to real experts” and allow the vaccines accessible to the public anew.

Concerns were triggered over Dengvaxia, the world’s first vaccine against dengue, after 14 children died out of more than 800,000 inoculated in 2016-17, the BBC reported.

In November 2017, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi released results of its long-term follow-up study showing that Dengvaxia could cause an increased risk to patients who received it without prior history of being infected with dengue.

Subsequently, the government, under incumbent Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, stopped the nationwide anti-dengue inoculation campaign and thereby pulled out Dengvaxia vaccines from the local market.