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3 Filipinos feared to have MERS

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MANILA, Philippines—Local authorities are still validating reports three more overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East had contracted the dreaded Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

“Our officials are constantly coordinating with health authorities there to determine and monitor the condition of our OFWs,” said administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) in a media forum on Tuesday.

A report over the weekend said at least three more Filipino nurses in Saudi Arabia had contracted MERS-CoV. One of them is reportedly in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Riyadh.

The three are supposedly among the 14 new MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia, which include seven in Jeddah, four in Riyadh and three in Mecca.

Dimzon said the Owwa had intensified its information and health education drives in the Middle East to explain MERS-CoV to OFWs.

“For those preparing to leave the Philippines, we have included MERS-CoV health education in our predeparture orientation seminars,” she said.

The Department of Health and Philippine Health Insurance Corp., meanwhile, are finalizing a benefit package for PhilHealth members who may be infected with MERS-CoV.

Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, emerging infectious diseases program manager, said PhilHealth, the government’s social health insurance plan, would shoulder the cost of laboratory tests for patients.

The laboratory test to determine if a person is infected with MERS-CoV costs P5,000. The patient may also need to be confined in a health facility while awaiting the results.

The government has so far spent over P2 million to track, test and monitor all 414 passengers of Etihad Airlines flight EY 0424 on April 15 who had traveled with a male Filipino nurse who tested positive for MERS-CoV while in the United Arab Emirates.

Tests conducted on the nurse after he arrived in the Philippines came up negative for the virus.

Lee Suy said the country remained MERS-CoV-free amid the ongoing contact-tracing efforts of the DOH. He said 400 of the 414 passengers had tested negative for MERS-CoV.

“They have been tested and the results are negative…we’re still MERS-CoV-free, as of now,” he said.

Lee Suy said the rest of the passengers were either awaiting their results or were scheduled to undergo testing.

He, however, advised the public to remain vigilant against the disease.

“We cannot be complacent in dealing with the threat of MERS-CoV. Several thousand OFWs arrive in and leave the Philippines daily. The threat is always there. We have to be vigilant. The cooperation of communities is very important in order to ensure the MERS-CoV threat does not turn into a bigger threat,” Lee Suy said.

MERS-CoV is a communicable disease that may be spread through close contact with a positive carrier.

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