MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) allayed the fears of the public on Monday and emphasized that there is no reason to panic that the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) may spread in the country.
“While MERS-CoV has a mortality rate of 30 percent, human-to-human transmission is not that easy. Hence, there is no reason to panic. However, we have to be on guard and be vigilant in watching out for flu-like and asthma-like symptoms among travelers coming from the Middle East Region,” acting Health Secretary Janette L. Garin said in a press briefing held at the DOH Media Relations Unit (MRU) in Tayuman, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
She assured that the DOH continues to intensify its health protection efforts to prevent any possible spread of the disease.
Dr. Garin was accompanied in the press briefing by Mayor Lourdes Cataquiz of San Pedro City, Laguna; Dr. Cecilia Evangelista, owner of a private hospital in the city where the 32-year-old Filipina nurse who tested positive for MERS-CoV sought initial treatment; and Dr. Julie Hall of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The nurse, who arrived from Saudi Arabia on Feb. 1, has tested positive for MERS-CoV, a respiratory disease that has infected and killed hundreds, mostly in Saudi Arabia.She was first admitted to the Evangelista Medical Specialty Center in San Pedro on Feb. 2 after complaining of fever, cough and breathing difficulty.
She was later transferred to the DOH Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa City after her condition did not improve. Further tests confirmed that she has MERS-CoV.
According to Dr. Garin, the patient, who is four to five weeks pregnant, is now in stable condition and is being closely monitored by health workers.
During the press briefing, Mayor Cataquiz said she was saddened that as a result of the hospitalization of the nurse in her city, a sort of “panic” developed among some residents, especially when they saw tricycle drivers wearing face masks.
Cataquis cited that as a result, a temporary interruption of classes happened as some parents refused to send their children to school upon seeing tricycle drivers wearing masks.
The mayor, however, clarified that there was no truth to the information that the school had closed down for the sudden absence of students.
“It is not true that the school (Pacita Elementary School) shut down its operations. Due to the spread of wrong information, some parents opted not to send their children to school. But it is now business as usual and the school is operational,” the mayor explained.
She told the media people that in coordination with the DOH, the city health office is closely monitoring local residents who may develop MERS-CoV symptoms during the 14-day observation period.
Dr. Evangelista, on the other hand, assured that they are following the protocols on the disinfection needed for the hospital and expressed willingness to be subjected to another form of disinfection process in compliance with the DOH and WHO requirements.
“Although we have conducted disinfection in the hospital, the management has decided to voluntary submit the hospital for disinfection this time by DOH and WHO to allay the fears of everyone,” Evangelista said.
According to Garin, the willingness of the hospital management for another disinfection is a worthy sacrifice that will surely contribute a lot in ensuring that the people of San Pedro, Laguna will not fear on their health.
“In fact, the disinfection will be continuous… They voluntarily submitted the hospital for another disinfection by DOH and WHO, which will result to temporary closure of about 14 days, a very big sacrifice for them,” she added.
The hospital will be operational again on Feb. 24 after the disinfection.
Secretary Garin also appealed to the media to be the agency’s partners in imparting correct information to the public and explain how the department is intensifying its massive efforts to ensure that the one positive case of MERS-CoV recently confirmed in the country will not spread.
“And that is also where we need your help. Because the media is our partner in terms of advocacy and giving correct information, you (media) are the best partners in terms of correcting misinformation,” she added.
Meanwhile, the DOH again asked the public to contact the DOH hotline to reach out for the other co-passengers of the nurse to coordinate with them on contact-testing, especially if they are suffering from any flu-like symptoms to ensure that proper treatment and care can be given them.
Among the 220 passengers on board Saudia 860, 92 had been located and agreed to be tested.
MERS-CoV disease symptoms include shortness of breath, cough and fever.