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Pinoy nurse tests positive for MERS virus, first case in PHL

April 16, 2014 4:43pm
(Updated 7:36 p.m.) A Filipino male nurse, an OFW who just returned to the Philippines, has been confirmed to be the first reported case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in the Philippines, Health Secretary Enrique Ona announced Wednesday.

The nurse, who was exposed to the Filipino paramedic who died from MERS last week in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), had been tested while he was there and the positive results came out upon his arrival in the country on Tuesday, Ona said.

He did not attend to the patient who died and did not exhibit any symptoms of the disease upon arrival, Ona added.

The nurse returned to the Philippines with his wife, two children, and helper, Ona said. Five people fetched them from the airport, and all of them were quarantined due to possible exposure to the MERS virus.

The virus has a 10- to 14-day incubation period, and the results of new tests done by the Department of Health (DOH) are expected to be available by Friday, Ona said.

"Hindi pa ito talagang confirmed na results kaya we need to do some more tests kasi tawagan lang ang nangyari sa UAE. That's also the reason bakit quinarantine natin sila," Ona said during the briefing.

The DOH is now conducting "contact tracing" of 12 passengers seated near the male nurse inside the plane to find out if they were exposed to the virus, he added.

"It will certainly depend on the seat arrangement if he is in the middle we have to trace those in the front or back. At the same time, we will check other people na nagkaroon ng possible contact," said Dr. Emmanuel Labella, director of the Bureau of Quarantine, at the same briefing.

MERS is a novel virus often referred to as the Middle East’s own version of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Symptoms of MERS include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and even diarrhea. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Previous cases

Last week's death was the second reported MERS-related fatality involving a Filipino in the Middle East. A Filipina nurse died from the infection in August 2013.

Five other Filipinos who were reported to have contracted the MERS in the UAE have been quarantined and are now doing well and recovering, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Like the latest fatality, the five were paramedics at the Al Ain Rescue and Ambulance Section in Abu Dhabi.

All Filipino workers in the Middle East have been warned to take necessary precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

Human cases of MERS have also been reported in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Oman.

No travel restrictions

In a news conference Tuesday, Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio "Sonny" Coloma Jr. said hospitals have been instructed to report to the Department of Health any patient suspected of having contracted the MERS-CoV infection.

The cases are reported to the National Epidemiology Center and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which confirms the diagnosis.

Coloma said no travel restrictions have been issued because there is no epidemic or outbreak.

As a precautionary measure, however, Coloma said Filipinos traveling to the Middle East are advised to avoid contact with persons showing influenza-like symptoms and to wash their hands frequently.

Meanwhile, those returning from the Middle East who become ill within two weeks upon arrival are advised to delay visits to crowded places, seek immediate medical attention, and get tested for the MERS virus.

"The Bureau of Quarantine continues to screen travelers at the points of entry," he said. — YA/KBKELR, GMA News
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