Filipina nurse from Saudi Arabia is PH’s first MERS-CoV case – DOH
MANILA, Philippines – A 32-year-old Filipina nurse who arrived from Saudi Arabia on Feb. 1 is the country’s first positive case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to the Department of Health (DOH).
In a press briefing on Wednesday, DOH Undersecretary Nemesio Gako said health officials were already tracking down the other 224 passengers who flew on the same plane as the infected nurse, who took Saudi Airlines Flight No. SV860 in Riyadh.
“Testing was done on the patient and yielded positive results. The patient is being watched closely by our doctors and health workers,” said Gako, reading from a prepared statement. He added that the nurse was in a stable condition, as of Wednesday.
While the risk of transmission was low since the patient had no symptoms of the virus during the nine-hour flight, the DOH appealed to the passengers and others who came in contact with the nurse to have themselves tested and undergo a throat swab examination to rule out infection of MERS-CoV.
“Our appeal, since we already started contact-tracing, is that they don’t make it hard for us to contact them and they are requested to be subjected for testing because we are doing this for their and their families’ protection,” DOH spokesperson Lydon Lee Suy told reporters on Wednesday.
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.
The nurse, who traveled with her husband from Riyadh, was brought to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City on Monday after days of having cough, fever and body pains, among the symptoms of the virus.
Lee Suy said the initial consultation at an undisclosed health facility did not treat the case as MERS-CoV until the nurse was referred to the RITM on Monday, where she was immediately confined in one of the hospital’s negative pressure rooms.
The husband, who had no signs of the virus, was confined in a separate isolation room in the same hospital for precaution, he added.
Lee Suy said three tests were done on the nurse and all yielded positive for the virus. But he clarified that the country’s first MERS-CoV case was imported from Saudia Arabia and was not due to local transmission. “This is the first confirmed MERS-CoV case that was tested in the country,” he said.
Last year, two Filipino nurses had tested positive for the virus while still in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, respectively. But confirmatory tests done at the RITM following their return to the Philippines yielded negative results.
“According to the nurse, she did not have any contact with any case of MERS-CoV back there in Saudi. But she was working in a health facility so there was a chance that she might have [encountered] a patient [with the virus],” said Lee Suy.
The nurse developed fever and cough a day after her arrival in the Philippines. Aside from the nurse’s co-passengers, health officials were also tracking down other possible contacts between Feb. 1 and Feb. 10, the day tests confirmed that she had the virus.
So far, the patient’s relatives have not developed symptoms of the virus but they should be tested and placed under observation, said Lee Suy, adding that health personnel who attended to her during her first consultation have also been subjected to throat swab examination.
“For the community, we are also doing contact-tracing … we need to check on them to make sure they do not have fever, they do not manifest any symptoms relative to MERS-CoV,” said Lee Suy.
Dr. Julie Hall, World Health Organization country representative, said that while RITM had a “high level capacity” for confirming such cases, the DOH has been directed to send samples to one of WHO’s collaborating laboratories in Hong Kong as part of international protocol for MERS-CoV.
“We thank the government for informing us early on this and their willingness to share the samples for collaboration is very important as part of the global effort to end the [spread] of MERS-CoV,” said Hall.
As of Feb. 5, the WHO has recorded 971 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, of which 356 have died.
“The chance of transmission in the plane is low but it is important that those passengers be contacted and particularly those close to the [patient] are tested and are given the necessary advice and reassurance,” said Hall.
She also noted that the Philippine government was taking “very sensible” precautionary measures in terms of tracking down the nurse’s co-passengers and contact-tracing in the community to prevent the spread of the disease.
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