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3 Pinoy nurses may have MERS

MANILA, Philippines - Authorities are checking reports that three Filipino nurses in the Middle East have caught the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Speaking during a health forum of the Philippine College of Physicians, administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said two of the nurses are reportedly in the United Arab Emirates, while the third is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

“Our labor attachés are coordinating with the health authorities there... to get an update,” she said.

In La Union, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) from Saudi Arabia was placed in isolation after showing the common symptoms of MERS-CoV: fever and coughing.

Eduardo Posadas, San Fernando City health officer, said the patient arrived on Saturday and voluntarily underwent consultation at the city health office after he felt ill and weak.

“He has fever and cough that’s why we immediately referred him to the Department of Health (DOH) for further examination,” he said. “We are still waiting for the laboratory result.”

The DOH regional epidemiology and surveillance unit examined the patient and placed him in isolation for 14 days, Posadas said.

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Dimzon said five Filipino paramedics earlier reported to have contracted the MERS-CoV in the UAE have tested negative for the virus. The five are among the six paramedics hospitalized for the contagious disease.  

The sixth paramedic did not survive, making him the second Filipino to have died from the virus.

Dimzon said despite the continued spread of MERS-CoV in the Middle East, OWWA has not observed a decline in the deployment of Filipino workers. 

“Actually those who’ve been there were saying they hardly talk about that,” she said. “But of course we always remind them to be careful, to observe precautionary measures.”

Dimzon said information about MERS-CoV is now part of the modules being used in pre-departure orientation seminar of departing OFWs.

Lyndon Lee Suy, DOH program manager for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases, said the multi-agency Task Force MERS-CoV has not yet contacted 10 of the 414 passengers of the Etihad Airlines flight that brought home a Filipino nurse found positive of MERS-CoV.    

“If ever the 10 passengers did not develop symptoms, considering the profile of the disease, it’s safe to say there’s no problem,” he said.  “But we’re still tracking because we don’t want people to be complacent about this. The threat will always be there.”

The task force has not stopped looking for the 10, although the 14-day incubation period for MERS-CoV lapsed last Monday, he added.

Records showed that of the 414 passengers of the flight, the DOH was able to test 394 passengers. Out of the 394 examined, 371 were negative for the virus and results of the tests done on the rest are still being processed. 

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is coming up with a benefit package for MERS-CoV, Lee Suy said. – With Jun Elias

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