Feb. 7 (UPI) -- The Philippines on Wednesday declared a measles outbreak in the capital city of Manila.
Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III made the declaration during a media conference urging parents to vaccinate their children, the Bangkok Post reported.
"We are declaring an outbreak as cases have increased in the past weeks and to strengthen surveillance of new cases and alert mothers and caregivers to be more vigilant," Duque said.
The Department of Health said it has seen a 550 percent increase in the number of recorded measle cases in the capital city during the first month of 2019 compared to the year before, ABS-CBN News reported.
The department recorded 196 cases of measles in Metro Manila from Jan. 1 to Feb. 6 compared to only 20 cases in 2018.
Since Jan. 1, there have been at least 55 deaths, mostly children below the age of 4 years old, the health department said.
The Department of Health is advising parents to be vigilant and vaccinate their children, especially since 2.4 million Filipino children are unvaccinated and are at risk of contracting the highly contagious disease, CNN Philippines reported.
While the government has made a concerted effort to eradicate the disease, parents' fear over a recent dengue fever vaccine have caused immunization rates to drop, Vice President Leni Robredo said.
"I hope concerns like this should not be politicized because the lives of the children are at stake here," she said.
In November 2017, news of potential side effects of the dengue vaccine caused public outrage in the Philippines and political unrest, causing the public to lose trust in all vaccines, Asian Scientist reported.
Philippine Foundation for Vaccination executive director Lulu Bravo said that they are expecting the situation to worsen.
"In 2005 to 2010 and up to 2013, we were having zero deaths with only a few cases. We are now looking at big outbreak and hundreds, even thousands, are expected to die every year if this trend continues," she said, urging parents to vaccinate their children.