DOH steps up testing for Zika virus
STEPPING up measures against the Zika virus, the Department of Health on Monday said all suspected cases, including babies diagnosed with microcephaly, will now be tested for the mosquito-borne disease.
In a press briefing, Health Secretary Janette Garin said the Zika virus has been classified as Category 1 in the Philippine Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response System, which means all suspected cases of the virus shall be reported to the DOH within 24 hours.
Other Category 1 diseases in the DOH Epidemiology Bureau’s surveillance system include highly communicable diseases such as the Ebola virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Influenza A (H1N1).
“This procedure is not new… these surveillance guidelines already exist and are continuously implemented in other infectious diseases,” Garin told reporters Monday.
“What we want to establish is a uniform case definition of suspected Zika cases and guidelines to improve the monitoring of Zika infections and its possible complications,” she said.
On March 6, the DOH reported that an American woman who visited the Philippines for four weeks in January tested positive for the virus upon returning to the United States, raising fears that the disease linked to a severe brain defect in infants may have been quietly infecting Filipinos.
In reporting the country’s second laboratory-confirmed Zika virus, health authorities admitted that Zika infection among Filipinos was possible since the main carrier of the disease is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same carrier of dengue, which is endemic in the Philippines.
The first case of Zika infection in the country was confirmed in Cebu in 2012. The patient, a 15-year-old boy, did not have a travel history.
Under the DOH’s surveillance system, samples collected from cases with suspected Zika virus will be collected and sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), which received a fresh supply of testing kits late last week.
Garin said 3,000 more kits arrived from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in addition to the 2,000 that had been earlier delivered to the RITM. Up to 5,000 people could be tested for Zika virus through real-time polymerase chain reaction, she said.
But the health chief said only suspected cases would be up for testing.
Dr. Irma Asuncion, head of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, defined suspected cases as patients with three major symptoms—fever, conjunctivitis and skin rash—plus any of the following that cannot be explained by other medical conditions: headache, myalgia or muscle pain, malaise, joint pain, retro-orbital pain or pain that occurs behind the orbit of the eye.
Patients with a travel history to places with Zika cases up to two weeks prior to the onset of symptoms and those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome—a neurological disorder linked to the mosquito-borne disease—fall under the category of suspect cases, said Asuncion.
Mothers whose fetus, newborn or infants that have a head circumference of less than the 3rd percentile on the World Health Organization child growth standards—with a disproportionately small head compared to the infant’s length or with intracranial calcifications—are considered suspected cases, she said.
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