MERS eyed in Saudi’s death; DOH looking for his contacts
A Saudi national suspected of carrying the MERS virus has died while visiting the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Saturday.
The patient, who had a cough, fever and occasional chills, died in an undisclosed hospital on Tuesday after a two-day confinement, Health Secretary Janette Garin said on Saturday.
But Garin said the DOH could not yet officially declare that the 63-year-old tourist from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was the Philippines’ first MERS death in the absence of tests that would confirm MERS infection.
Garin said the DOH received information about the patient only on the day of his death, too late to get samples for tests.
“This is an extraordinary situation because we were not able to isolate the actual virus since the tourist had already died and been embalmed,” Garin told reporters. “Because of the religion of the tourist, he was immediately embalmed and repatriated to his country.”
2 confirmed cases
Garin said the Philippines needed to consult the World Health Organization and the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Manila to determine whether the patient could be considered the country’s first MERS death.
So far, the Philippines has two confirmed cases of MERS—a pregnant Filipino nurse who returned to the country from Saudi Arabia and a 36-year-old man from Dubai.
Both overcame the MERS virus, a less transmissible but deadlier cousin of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus.
But the symptoms shown by the Saudi patient—cough, high fever, difficulty of breathing and chills—and his chest X-rays “suggested” MERS infection, Garin said.
The patient also showed indication of myocardial infarction, she said.
According to the findings of a DOH investigation, the Saudi national arrived in the Philippines on Sept. 17. He was billeted in a hotel in Manila and his booking was up to Oct. 2.
On Sept. 26, the tourist developed cough, high fever and occasional chills.
Two days later, hotel staff and medical personnel took him to a private hospital.
But his condition deteriorated overnight and he died on Sept. 29.
Garin said a DOH team was tracing people with whom the tourist had contact during his stay in the country.
The team has located 93 people, mostly hospital staff and workers at the funeral parlor where the tourist was embalmed.
Twelve of them developed MERS symptoms and they were confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and at San Lazaro Hospital for monitoring, Garin said.
She said the team was looking for four other people who had contact with the tourist, among them his hired driver.
Garin said initial screening conducted on the 12 people in confinement showed they had not developed symptoms, but they would remain confined until after the end of the 14-day incubation period of the MERS virus, or Oct. 13.
“They will be tested again because there is a possibility that during the initial screening the viral load was still very low to be detected … and even if they tested negative they will still be quarantined up to Oct. 13,” Garin said.
The other 81 were advised to stay at home during that period, she added.
The DOH also ordered the decontamination of the hotel room used by the tourist. The hotel’s staff were also given orientation on the MERS virus, Garin said.
Similar to flu
Garin urged public vigilance to make sure MERS would have a limited presence in the country.
“It is an illness that is similar to the flu,” she said.
“What is important is to report to the nearest hospital if you experience flu-like symptoms and if you have a history of travel to the Arabian Peninsula or possible exposure to a MERS-infected patient,” she said.
Saudi Arabia recently reported a surge in MERS infections, with 19 deaths in August, ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
A total of 536 people have died of MERS in the kingdom since it first appeared in 2012, according to data from the Saudi health ministry’s website as of Friday.
The virus has serious complications among elderly people with diabetes and those who have a history of stroke, she added.
Garin said the DOH would implement a reporting system for private hospitals to make sure they were always on the lookout for MERS.
“All private hospitals will have to submit a report to the DOH even if they have no case of the virus. The purpose of this is to easily identify suspect cases and to remind them to be aggressive,” she said. With a report from AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.