The government was probing on Tuesday what could be the first case of the SARS-like virus
that has infected hundreds in China, health authorities said.
A five-year-old child arrived in the Philippines Jan. 12 from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease was discovered and has been hospitalized since with flu symptoms.
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While the child tested positive for a virus, authorities in Manila say they are not sure if it is the same 2019 novel coronavirus that has killed four people in China
and sickened people in three other Asian countries.
READ: Major SARS-like outbreak feared amid third death outside of China
“The child is considered a person under investigation,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told a press briefing.
Samples from the child were sent to a lab in Australia for further testing and authorities are awaiting the results, he added.
The child was already showing symptoms like fever, throat irritation and cough before arriving in the Cebu with a parent, the Health department said.
Three other travelers from China were checked by authorities at the Kalibo International Airport, but they did not show symptoms that corresponded with the warning issued by the World Health Organization about the virus from Wuhan.
READ: Global health emergency eyed over outbreak
DOH Epidemiology Bureau Chief Dr. Chito Avelino said the young boy was immediately confined in a hospital at 6 p.m. after arriving in Cebu City three hours earlier.
Before entering the Philippines, the boy had a fever, throat irritation and a cough.
Samples from the patient were first tested at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and yielded negative results for MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.
Duque also said they are still monitoring the three people with flu-like symptoms who entered through the Kalibo International Airport from China.
He said the three, who were initially admitted in a hospital in Aklan, have no history of travel to Wuhan and no known contact with a confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) case, SARS or sick animals.
Throat samples from these patients were already sent to RITM for testing. All three cases are currently well and are no longer manifesting any symptoms.
Duque said the DOH is enhancing its coronavirus laboratory testing capacity, hospital preparedness, rapid response, and its risk communication and information dissemination. Personal protective equipment are available at the Bureau of Quarantine, Centers for Health Development, and DOH hospitals.
He said they are also closely monitoring individuals who manifested signs of respiratory infection and had a history of travel to China and is coordinating with WHO and China Center for Disease Control for updates.
“I encourage the health workers to be vigilant and take extra precautionary measures when in contact with patients with acute respiratory infection, especially those with travel history to China,” Duque said.
The Bureau of Quarantine is working with airlines and airport authorities to strengthen border surveillance, while the Epidemiology Bureau is heightening its community surveillance.
The DOH advised the public to practice frequent hand washing, avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals, practice proper cough etiquette–maintain distance and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of your elbow, avoid close contact with people showing cold or flu-like symptoms, and ensure that food is well-cooked.
“I urge travelers with symptoms of respiratory illness, either during or after travel, to seek medical attention immediately. I also call on our health facilities to enhance standard infection prevention and control practices, especially in our emergency departments. We must always be ready,” added Duque.
WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said they are working with their members states to better understand the new disease.
At this point, he said there is still a lot that’s unknown.
“We are not sure of the source—if they came from animal or meat or another source,” he said.
He also believes there maybe human-to-human transmission. He said this was demonstrated by the fact that among those 222 confirmed cases, there were 14 hospital employees caring for sick people.
At present, he said the guidance of WHO is to use the “tried and tested guidelines” that they have used for preventing infection and control during previous coronavirus infections such as the MERS-CoV and SARS.
Furthermore, he said they are working very closely with Chinese authorities to get a better understanding of these information.
On Dec. 31, 2019, a clustering of pneumonia cases of unknown etiology was reported in Wuhan, China.
The outbreak was later determined to be caused by a 2019-nCoV, a new coronavirus strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious infections such as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. Common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it can cause pneumonia, acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.
A WHO statement said as of Tuesday, there has been no confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus case in the Philippines.
Senator Imee Marcos warned, however, that an influx of Chinese vacationers celebrating the new year could spread the new strain of pneumonia-causing virus here.
She also cautioned that the lax immigration procedures for Philippine offshore gaming operators also increased the country’s health risk to the virus. With AFP