The Philippine government on Monday issued tips to help Filipinos in the Middle East avoid infection by the fast-spreading Middle East Respiratory-Corona Virus (MERS-COV).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has not declared any outbreak or epidemic of MERS-COV in the Middle East but the infection has killed at least 93 people, two of them Filipino health workers in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
The government did not issue any travel restrictions to and from the Arabian Peninsula, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Health called on Filipinos in the Middle East to exercise vigilance for their own protection.
Filipinos in the Middle East were urged to always wash their hands with soap or hand rubs with alcohol before and after eating, before and after handling, cooking and preparing food; after coughing, sneezing and using the toilets; and before and after touching animals.
They were also urged to avoid contact with farm and domesticated animals, including camels. They should also stay away from sick people or those infected with MERS-CoV.
The government urged Filipinos not to panic or believe rumors that some areas had been designated “hotspots” for the virus.
There is no vaccine for MERS.
Meanwhile, the government continues to track down passengers who were in the same flight as the male Filipino nurse suspected to have carried the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) but who tested negative of the virus upon arrival in the Philippines.
The DOH released in newspapers on Monday the names of the 208 passengers who rode with the Filipino nurse onboard Etihad Airlines Flight EY 0424 from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), to Manila.
Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy of the DOH’s National Center for Disease Prevention and Control (NCDPC) told reporters that the Task Force MERS-CoV, which was created on orders of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, is tracing these passengers.
“We are trying to get all possible sources of information on these passengers to ensure that we are not going to miss anyone of them,” Suy said on Monday.
Reports said some of the passengers who went home to parts of Western Visayas and Batangas province in Southern Luzon were being monitored by local health officials.
Suy said the DOH will shoulder the expenses of the medical testing, which would cost around P5,000, and that PhilHealth would cover the expenses for the isolation of patients in government hospitals.
The DOH recommended that MERS-CoV testing be done either at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila, or at Vicente Sotto Medical Center in Cebu City.
Suy explained that although MERS-CoV symptoms (cough, colds, fever) may not be shown by the Filipino nurse and the other passangers, they can still infect other people.
“If no symptoms appear within 14 days, then we [can safely say that MERS-CoV is gone],” he said.
As a precaution, personnel of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport began wearing medical masks on Monday.
BI officials said they were advised about the symptoms of the virus and were ordered to be on alert for all Filipinos and foreigners traveling from the Middle East.
Also, quarantine personnel at the airport tightened the monitoring of the large number of passengers coming from that region.
They also started distributing “Health Alert Notice” and “Health Declaration Checklist” aside from the thermal scanner to all travelers in coordination with the airlines concerned.
According to quarantine physician on duty Samuel Battung, their agency is coordinating with the Manila International Airport Authority in connection with the monitoring and prevention of the possible entry of the dreaded virus.
In Batangas, health officials are monitoring nine patients who had been exposed to the person with suspected MERS-CoV.
Dr. Ramoncito Magnaye, Batangas Medical Center director, also on Monday said two of the nine patients have been released after their laboratory results were found negative of the virus.
He added that the seven remaining patients are in an isolation room while waiting for their laboratory tests.
Health workers who are tracking down other passengers of Flight EY 0424 living in Batangas are being accompanied by the police as some patients refuse to undergo medical check-up.
The MERS-CoV is considered a more fatal but less transmissible cousin of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that spread in Asia in 2003.
Suy has assured the public that the Philippines remains free of MERS-CoV.
PNA With Reports From By Ghio Ong, Benjie L. Vergara and Tina Ganzon