DOH confirms country’s 2nd case of MERS
The Department of Health (DOH) is now monitoring the people who had come in close contact with a foreigner who has become the second confirmed case of the dreaded Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus in the country.
At a press conference on Monday, Health Secretary Janette Garin said the 36-year-old patient, now confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City, came from Dubai late last month and had a short layover in Saudi Arabia, where the virus was first detected in April 2012.
The patient also traveled to another country, which Garin declined to reveal, during the 14-day incubation period since the foreigner’s arrival from the Middle East last month.
He developed fever and cough on July 2, the 12th day of the incubation period, and sought medical attention at an undisclosed private hospital.
He was immediately confined at the RITM on Saturday when his tests yielded positive for MERS, a less transmissible but deadlier cousin of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus.
The MERS virus is spread from an infected person’s respiratory secretions, through coughing or sneezing, usually after close contact.
A 32-year-old pregnant Filipino nurse working in Saudi Arabia was the country’s first positive case of the deadly MERS virus in February. She showed symptoms of the disease shortly after her arrival in the country on Feb. 1. But she was successfully treated at the RITM after a week.
“Last Saturday, at 11:30 a.m., the RITM received a referral of a foreigner from the Middle East with a cough,” Garin said. “Around 5 p.m. on the same day, the test yielded positive. The patient quickly responded and he was confined at the RITM.”
Tests also showed that the patient had a low virus load, which meant that he was probably at the “tail end” of the virus and already recovering from it, according to the health secretary.
One of the patient’s close contacts, a Filipino woman companion, is also currently in isolation at the RITM since Saturday after showing symptoms of the disease. “We are still waiting for the results of her tests,” Garin said.
Typical symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and sometimes pneumonia and diarrhea.
Malacañang has assured the public that the government is prepared to deal with the MERS virus.
“The Philippines, through the Department of Health, is fully ready and capable of detecting, isolating and treating any reported case of MERS in the country,” Presidential Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a text message.
Coloma said President Aquino had ordered the DOH to tighten surveillance and quarantine measures at ports of entry and to ensure that hospitals promptly report patients who show symptoms of the disease for immediate isolation, treatment and contact tracing.
Garin said the DOH had mobilized its task force to get in touch with roughly 200 passengers of the latest flight that the index patient took.
At least seven people, who had close contact with the foreigner, were put in home quarantine.
Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, a DOH spokesman, said the health department would no longer track down passengers of the flight from the Middle East because the patient was asymptomatic (was not showing symptoms) at the time and the 14-day incubation period had lapsed over the weekend.
But the health department was looking closely after those whom the patient had encountered shortly after he showed signs of the virus, Lee Suy said. “To be fair, the patient did not go out anymore after he began having symptoms.”
Garin said the latest MERS case in the country should not worry the public since no community transmission had been reported even in areas where an outbreak of the virus had occurred.
Transmission of the virus usually occurs between patient and healthcare workers.
“Health workers are usually at risk. Transmission also occurs via repeated and close contact with a family member or a household companion,” Garin said.
“There is no reason to panic … What is important now is for us to continue practicing proper hygiene, having adequate rest, balanced diet, all leading to a good resistance,” she added.
Garin urged those arriving from the Middle East, South Korea and other areas where there are cases of the virus to fill out completely and honestly the health declaration form given to them by authorities at the airport upon arrival to help the government in its surveillance against MERS and other emerging infectious diseases.
MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since infected more than 800 people, killing over 300 in that country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Approximately 36 percent of reported patients with MERS have died, the agency added.
In South Korea, which is suffering the worst outbreak of MERS outside Saudi Arabia, 185 people have been diagnosed with the disease with 33 fatalities, the government there said.
Of those infected, 41 remain hospitalized, with 11 in critical condition.
The DOH has been on alert in recent weeks for the possible entry of the virus that causes MERS, particularly among the 88,000 South Koreans living in the country.–With reports from AFP, Gil C. Cabacungan and Inquirer Research
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