Soldier under tight watch
The Department of Health (DOH) is closely watching a Filipino peacekeeper who developed symptoms of the dreaded Ebola disease on the second day of a government-imposed quarantine on Caballo island near Corregidor following his return with 137 others from Ebola-stricken Liberia on Wednesday.
Reports on Friday that the soldier was ill were quickly followed by text messages that Ebola had reached the country, prompting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to appeal to the public not to propagate the unconfirmed information.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP Public Affairs Office chief, warned that spreading rumors may cause panic among the people even though the Philippines remains free from Ebola.
“There are text messages circulating and we want to avoid undue panic because of these rumors. This kind of information should come from our health authorities,” Cabunoc said.
The peacekeepers—108 soldiers, 29 policemen, and one jail officer—were quarantined for 21 days in Liberia before being flown back to the Philippines. All tested negative for Ebola.
They arrived on a chartered Russian plane at Villamor Air Base on Wednesday and were taken by ship to Caballo Island, at the mouth of Manila Bay, for another 21-day quarantine.
Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin told a news conference on Friday that Ebola has not reached the Philippines.
She said the peacekeeper developed fever, chills and body malaise early Friday and was immediately tested for Ebola as routine protocol.
Results of the test will be available in two days.
Neither the DOH nor the AFP identified the ailing peacekeeper, who served in the 18th Philippine Contingent to Liberia.
“Because he came from Liberia, we are testing him for Ebola,” Garin said, quickly adding that people coming from Ebola-hit countries are not necessarily infected with the Ebola virus.
Garin said it was highly possible that the peacekeeper could be showing symptoms of malaria that had not been properly treated before.
She noted that the peacekeeper came down with malaria during his stint in Liberia.
Malaria is endemic to West Africa, the epicenter of the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
The DOH also noted that out of the 120 peacekeepers who returned to the country from Liberia earlier this year, 19 had been sick of malaria.
“There is a possibility that his malaria came back or that he was not efficiently treated before,” Garin said, adding that the Philippines remains free of Ebola.
Ebola has sickened more than 14,000 people and killed more than 5,000 since it broke out in West Africa early this year. Most of the patients who died were from Sierra Leone.
The Ebola virus has an incubation period of 21 days. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding in the last stages.
President Benigno Aquino III ordered the withdrawal of the Philippine peacekeepers in Liberia to save them from the Ebola outbreak in that country.
Transferred to hospital
Garin said the sick peacekeeper was transferred on Friday to a government hospital, which she did not identify, to ensure that he was not infected with Ebola.
A review of his malaria treatment will be conducted at the undisclosed hospital, Garin said.
“For now, there is no need for the use of personal protective equipment for this case because he is just experiencing fever and has no body secretions like vomit, urine or diarrhea from which the virus can be transmitted,” she added.
But in an interview with reporters, DOH spokesperson Lyndon Lee-Suy said the people who transported the peacekeeper to the hospital wore protective suits as a safety measure.
The peacekeeper was also made to wear a mask during his transfer, Lee-Suy said.
“Without body fluids being released like vomit, diarrhea or blood, the risk is less,” he said.
Cabunoc said morale among the other peacekeepers quarantined on Caballo Island remained high.
Just resting and going about recreational activities, the troops do not show signs of illness, Cabunoc said.
He said the peacekeepers were in the “no risk category,” as they did not have contact with any Ebola patient in Liberia.
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City said on Friday it was ready to care for the ailing peacekeeper should he be brought in.
“We are ready. We have not changed our practice. Whether or not it’s Ebola, we have infection-control measures in place,” RITM director Socorro Lupisan told reporters.
Lupisan said the hospital had designated people to receive the patient and doctors would “attend to him.”
“As far as our laboratory staff [is concerned], it is ready,” she said.
Lupisan said that should the peacekeeper be brought in, several tests would be conducted on him, and the “turnaround time” for the tests was 48 hours.
“Because if he’s symptomatic, we will assess him again. . . We will have a baseline scientific examination, we will do a blood sampling. The blood sample will be inactivated and tested for Ebola,” she said.
The results of the tests will be immediately sent to the DOH central office, she added.
In the meantime, the patient will be isolated in the hospital, she said.
If the peacekeeper is found negative for Ebola, Lupisan said doctors would proceed to test him for malaria.
“The symptoms of malaria are fever and chills, headache,” she said, adding that malaria is endemic to Africa.
It is possible, however, that the peacekeeper is just tired after the long trip home, she said.
Asked if the other peacekeepers on Caballo Island needed to be tested for Ebola, Lupisan said no.
Only those who show symptoms will be tested, she said.
Lupisan advised the families of the peacekeepers not to worry, as the soldiers are under close monitoring.
“We have a medical team there. They’re there to check on their condition. And if there is any symptom, there is a hospital that will accept them and assess them so we will know the cause,” she said. With a report from Kristine Felisse Mangunay
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.