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MERS-CoV scare: Search for 174 passengers intensified

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 01:40 AM April 23, 2014

Passengers walk past a thermal scanner at the medical quarantine area at the arrival section of Manila’s International Airport in Paranaque. AP FILE PHOTO

Health authorities have opened a Facebook account, bought newspaper ad space for the names of 174 out of the 415 passengers of a flight from the Middle East who had yet to submit themselves as of Monday to nose-and-throat swab test for a deadly virus and enlisted the help of the police in tracing them.

President Benigno Aquino III would have wanted that all the copassengers of a male Filipino nurse, who initially tested positive for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV), be contacted by the Department of Health (DOH) by Tuesday.

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At a press briefing, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, DOH Emerging Infectious Diseases program manager, on Tuesday said that Mr. Aquino had strongly recommended that the agency’s contact-tracing efforts for all the passengers of Etihad Airways Flight No. EY 0424 should have been completed a week after they had arrived in the country.

The male nurse, who arrived in Manila from the United Arab Emirates on April 15, was initially diagnosed with MERS-CoV while he was still at the UAE. But the two tests conducted on him by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City yielded negative results.

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The nurse came into contact with a Filipino paramedic who died of MERS-CoV in the UAE.

“The strong recommendation by the President is for us to be able to contact and locate all the passengers within today. We are working hard and all our efforts are focused on finding these passengers. We are optimistic we can meet the President’s deadline,” Lee Suy said.

“So far, we’re doing good. We don’t see any problem with (contact tracing). But of course, the faster, the better,” he added.

MERS-CoV is a communicable disease that may be passed on to others through close contact with a positive carrier. It has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days and symptoms may include fever, coughing, sneezing and runny nose two weeks after exposure.

The World Health Organization has recorded 242 confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including 93 deaths, since it was first discovered in March 2012 in Saudi Arabia.

At least eight overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been found positive for the virus. Two of them—one in Saudi Arabia and another in the UAE—reportedly died on Aug. 29 and April 10, respectively.

Lee Suy declined to provide details on how many new passengers the DOH had already contacted, how many had been tested, or even the results of the tests. “It is up to Malacañang to release specific numbers,” he said.

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51 from Central Luzon

At least 18 passengers of Flight EY 0424 from Central Luzon have tested negative for MERS-CoV, a DOH official here said on Tuesday.

The results of swabbing for saliva samples on 30 other passengers from the region were expected in two to three days, said Dr. Rhodora Cruz, a DOH medical specialist.

They belong to a set of 51 passengers residing in Central Luzon, she said.

In this batch, three persons have yet to be traced or have not reported to Jose B. Lingad Regional Memorial Hospital, a DOH-run facility in the City of San Fernando, the Pampanga capital. It has reserved an isolation room for MERS-CoV patients.

Of the 51 passengers, 19 are from Bulacan province, 11 from Pampanga province, 7 each from Bataan province and Nueva Ecija province, 4 from Tarlac province and 3 from Zambales province, according to Cruz.

Cruz said only two patients had agreed to be confined for observation. The rest preferred home confinement.

Seven of the nine passengers of Etihad, who are from Laguna province, have tested negative of MERS-CoV.

Dr. Judy Rondilla, Laguna health director, said among the nine passengers, seven had undergone the nose-and–throat swab test and had been “given clearance” that they were negative of the virus.

She said the test for the two others was still being facilitated as of posting time.

Rondilla told the Inquirer in a telephone interview that a composite team of health workers, Philippine National Police and other service agencies had coordinated, and worked overtime starting Good Friday to find the passengers so they could get in touch with the health department and be sent at once to RITM for the test.

8 from Bicol

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) in the Bicol region has traced eight Bicolanos, who were among the 174 passengers who have yet to be tested for the MERS-CoV, the Owwa regional office said on Tuesday.

Director Jocelyn Hapal of Owwa-Bicol said there were four from the province of Camarines Sur, 1 from Camarines Norte and three from Albay who were referred to the DOH while two more Bicolanos from the same flight stayed in Manila.

Hapal said the DOH had already made contact with the eight Bicolanos and the tests were done but the results had yet to be known.

Owwa Administrator Carmelita Dimzon said the labor department-attached agency was “part of the continuing government efforts” to trace and contact the passengers of Flight EY 0424.

Dimzon said the task of the agency was “limited to tracing the OFW passengers who happen to be Owwa members.”

Six Negrenses

In Negros Occidental province, four of the six Negrenses quarantined for possible MERS-CoV tested negative and were released, Dr. Ernell Tumimbang, provincial health officer, said Tuesday.

The six Negrenses were on Flight EY 0424.

Tumimbang said the Negrenses identified to be on the same flight were quarantined as a precaution until their test results come out.

Of the six, four are from Bacolod City, one from Talisay City and one from Toboso town, he said.

The four from Bacolod City—a male engineer, female manager, a female nurse and a male seafarer, as well as a male technician from Talisay were quarantined at Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital, Tumimbang said.

However, two from Bacolod tested negative for MERS-CoV and were released on Monday, and two others from Toboso and Talisay were released on Tuesday.

11 from Central Mindanao

Health officials in North Cotabato province are closely monitoring a foreigner and three OFWs who recently returned home on Etihad Airways.

Dr. Eva Rabaya, North Cotabato Integrated Provincial Health chief (Ipho), told reporters on Tuesday that health workers had found and talked to the OFWs and the foreigner whom she did not identify.

There were 11 Etihad passengers who returned home to Central Mindanao last week. Dr. Teogenes Baluma, regional director for DOH-12, said three of the passengers were confined in a government hospital in Cotabato City undergoing medical examination to determine if they have the virus.

Among them was a 60-year-old man from Iloilo City who visited Isulan, Sultan Kudarat province.

Rabaya and Jenny Ventura, speaking for DOH-12, have appealed to the public not to panic and avoid direct contacts with their relatives who recently returned from the Middle East.

“To date, there’s no confirmed virus carrier and there’s nothing to worry about because health officials are working on it,” Ventura said.

North Cotabato has four passengers from the Etihad flight, Rabaya said.

“They are now undergoing quarantine. Three are Filipinos and one foreigner,” Rabaya said without naming the patients.

She said the foreigner was invited by an OFW-friend from Kidapawan City.

“Our health workers took nose and throat swabs, and we are waiting for the results,” she said of the OFWs.

“They were told to stay home and to isolate themselves in their homes. They and their families were advised to wear masks,” Rabaya added.

Lee Suy said the President did not want to be caught unawares that there was one case of MERS-CoV in the country.

“We have to examine and test all the passengers before we can confirm if there is or there is no MERS-CoV case in the country,” he added.

Lee Suy said Task Force MERS-CoV, which was mobilized to create heightened awareness and prevent the spread of the disease, was doing everything to contact the passengers.

Facebook account

He said the task force had the data for all the passengers and was using various means, including the setting up of a Facebook account.

Advertisements containing the names of all the passengers who have yet to be contacted by the authorities have also been placed in newspapers.

“Publishing is not condemning them. Nobody wanted to be on the same flight. It just so happened they were there. We just want to get them tested to assure that their families are also protected,” Lee Suy explained.

But he reiterated that the DOH, through the PNP, was prepared to exercise provisions of the Quarantine Law of 2004 in case of resistance by any of the passengers of Flight EY 0424. Reports from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Romulo Ponte and Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon; Carla Gomez, Inquirer Visayas; Edwin Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao; and Jerry E. Esplanada in Manila

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TAGS: Deadly Virus, Department of Health, DoH, DOH Emerging Infectious Diseases, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, Dr. Rhodora Cruz, Etihad airways, MERS-CoV, Middle East, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus, Muntinlupa City, OFWs, Overseas Filipino Workers, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, RITM, United Arab Emirates
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