PH warns OFWs about Middle East virus

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines warned its overseas nationals on Monday, April 14, about a deadly disease in the Middle East that has reportedly affected 7 Filipinos so far.

This figure includes one who died on Thursday, April 10, and 5 others who contracted MERS according to various reports. The 5 Filipinos “remain in quarantine as a precaution” but “are doing well and recovering,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

A Filipina died of MERS on August 29, 2013.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, April 11, reported 212 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection worldwide.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose told Rappler on Monday it was unclear, based on an embassy report, if the 5 quarantined Filipinos have been confirmed cases or merely suspected.

If all, including the two who died, are confirmed as MERS cases, the 7 Filipinos would comprise 3.3% of MERS victims worldwide.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) wishes to advise Filipinos in the Middle East to take necessary precautions and to follow the advice of the local health authorities in their host countries following the recent reports of Filipino nationals affected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus in the UAE,” the DFA said in a statement.

Constant coordination

In Abu Dhabi, the Philippine embassy “is continuously coordinating with the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi in monitoring cases of Filipinos possibly affected” by MERS, the DFA added.

In a separate statement, the Philippines' Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said its officer in Abu Dhabi has coordinated with the family of the Filipino nurse who died last week.

Philippine Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz directed OWWA to assist the nurse's family.

Baldoz said the Philippine government is also updating itself on other Filipinos “who have reportedly been in contact with the Filipino nurse before his death.”

40% of victims dead

On Tuesday, April 15, the Department of Health (DOH) issued an advisory on the virus, reminding Filipinos traveling to the Middle East "to avoid contact with persons showing influenza-like illness and to observe frequent hand washing."

It also advised returning Filipinos from the Middle East who get sick within two weeks of their return to "delay visits to crowded places and to seek immediate medical attention."

DOH says it has told hospitals to report any patients suspected of having contracted the MERS coronavirus infection.

The agency also called to all other travelers from the Middle East who are experiencing severe respiratory illness to be tested for the infection. It gave assurances the Bureau of Quarantine continues to screen travelers entering the Philippines.

Despite this, the DOH clarifies there are no travel restrictions to and from the Middle East, absent of an epidemic or outbreak.

The MERS virus is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, 9% of whom died.

Experts are still struggling to understand MERS, for which there is no known vaccine.

Of the 212 MERS victims that the WHO has recorded, 88 or 41.5% have died. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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