All persons exposed to nurse with MERS-CoV test negative for virus — DOH
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) said on Tuesday all those who were subjected to testing for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) following exposure to an infected nurse have been declared safe, leaving the country with just one confirmed case of the disease.
To prevent the spread of the virus, the health agency also discouraged “fiesta-like” welcome at the airport of arriving overseas Filipino workers from the Arabian peninsula, where cases of MERS-CoV have been reported since 2012.
The DOH referred to the Filipino habit of families bringing the entire clan at the airport to receive a returning loved one from abroad.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, the DOH spokesperson, said three people, two of whom were passengers of the Saudi Airlines flight the infected Filipino nurse had taken on Feb. 1, had tested negative of the virus after several rounds of testing.
One of the three, a health worker at the Evangelista Medical Specialty Hospital in San Pedro, Laguna, was still confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) due to pneumonia, said Lee Suy.
The health worker, among those who attended to the infected nurse when she sought treatment at the Laguna-based hospital, was initially described as a “probable case” of MERS-CoV due to suspicious X-ray findings in her lungs.
“But tests showed she has pneumonia and we have to address it as well. It has nothing to do with MERS-CoV anymore,” explained Lee Suy.
The two passengers of Saudi Airlines Flight SV860, initially considered as “patient under investigation” and “MERS-CoV suspect,” respectively, also tested negative for the virus.
Lee Suy said the second round of tests conducted on the “MERS-CoV suspect” yielded negative results while initial results of the “patient under investigation” also showed no signs of the virus.
He added that the latter was to undergo a second round of testing as precautionary measure but it would most likely also show a negative result.
“So as of the moment, our status is that we only have one MERS-CoV case, which is the nurse,” added the DOH official.
He added that the 32-year-old nurse, who arrived in the country from Saudi Arabia on Feb. 1, was “not showing any signs of distress.” Since the patient was pregnant, the RITM also referred the case to an obstetrician “to take care of her pregnancy.”
In a bid to prevent the entry of the deadly virus in the country, Lee Suy appealed to families not to bring a “welcome committee” at the airport. He also advised against entire families wearing face masks at the airport as this might also cause panic among the public.
“It’s not a good approach as it might just create confusion among arriving travelers,” said Lee Suy.
“I think we should just do away for awhile with the big number of family members trooping to the airport as if they are going to a fiesta,” said Lee Suy. “It’s best to limit it…also to limit the number of people who can possibly be exposed to the virus,” he added.
He recalled the country’s first MERS-CoV scare in April 2014, where an entire family had to be confined for 14 days after it welcomed a loved one, a nurse from the United Arab Emirates, who initially tested positive for the virus before he returned home.
The nurse from UAE tested negative for the virus after confirmatory tests were conducted at the RITM, leading doctors to conclude that he might have overcome the virus during his flight back home to the Philippines.
Lee Suy has also advised returning OFWs to immediately proceed to a hospital or see a doctor from the airport if they do not feel well during the flight. “If they feel some symptoms, they should go directly to a hospital before they go home to limit the possible exposure of family members or neighbors,” he said.
MERS-CoV, considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus, carry symptoms that are similar to the common flu, including fever with cough, cold and sneezing. The incubation period of the virus is usually 14 days.
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