Filipina nurse from Saudi tests positive for MERS-CoV

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Health (DOH) announced on Wednesday, February 11, that a Filipina nurse who recently arrived in the country tested positive for the MERS Coronavirus.

"May isang pasyenteng na-admit sa Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). Isang 32-year-old nurse na galing Saudi Arabia ang nakaramdam ng lagnat, pananakit ng katawan, ubo at hirap ng paghinga – mga sintomas na tugma sa isang pasyenteng may MERS-CoV," the department said in a statement.

(A patient was admitted at the RITM. A 32-year-old nurse from Saudi Arabia had fever, experienced body pain, and had cough and difficulty in breathing – symptoms of a patient with MERS-CoV.)

The nurse, along with her husband, arrived in the country via Saudia flight 860 on February 1. She arrived in the Philippines without symptoms, so she was not detected by thermal scanners at the airport.

The next day, however, she already started feeling sick, so she went to a hospital, which in turn sent samples of her specimen to RITM. Two tests released February 9 yielded positive results. 

The patient was confined at RITM on Tuesday, February 10, and a third test turned out positive. 

The MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus is a highly fatal, influenza-like illness characterized by fever, cough, and often with diarrhea. (READ: FAST FACTS: The MERS Coronavirus)

As of February 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 971 laboratory-confirmed cases of infections, 356 of which resulted in death, worldwide.

DOH Spokesperson Lyndon Lee Suy said the nurse is the first MERS-CoV case diagnosed in the country.

The health department reported two separate cases in 2014, but they were diagnosed in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, respectively. 

"The patient is currently confined in a negative pressure room at RITM. Patuloy siyang sinusubaybayan ng ating mga doctors at health workers (Our doctors and health workers are currently observing her)," the statement read. 

Contact tracing of the nurse's 225 co-passengers began Wednesday morning. The health department is also tracing her family and the hospital personnel she was in contact with, while her husband is already admitted with her at RITM. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines also sent the patient's sample to a WHO collaborating laboratory in Hong Kong for "additional confirmation," which is part of the international protocol for MERS-CoV. 

"I think it's unfortunately to be expected [for MERS to reach the Philippines] because of the number of Filipinos working in the Middle East, the amount of travel – 3 or 4 flights a day arriving in the Philippines from the Middle East," said WHO representative for the Philippines Julie Hall. 

But she quickly added MERS-CoV has not been associated with large outbreaks because it is "difficult to spread from one person to the next" as it requires close contact. 

Lee Suy said there is no reason for Filipinos to panic or be afraid.

"Bakit ka naman matatakot kung wala ka namang contact sa kanya? (Why will you be afraid if you don't have contact with her?)" 

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio "Sonny" Coloma said the President has directed Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin "to ensure that all necessary preventive measures are taken in connection with the reported case of MERS-CoV now being treated at RITM." – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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