Saudi national with MERS symptoms dies in Philippines
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A 63-year-old male Saudi national died in the country last Sept. 29 due to suspected Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) some two weeks after arriving for a vacation, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

The DOH refused to declare it as the country’s first MERS-CoV though pending confirmation from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health Secretary Janette Garin said the patient was no longer tested for MERS-CoV because he had undergone “light embalming” at a funeral parlor when the DOH was alerted about the case.

“We could not confirm by laboratory although his symptoms are suggestive of MERS-CoV. The actual isolation of the virus was not done because he was already embalmed and given formalin. We are coordinating with the WHO and officials of the Saudi embassy on how he will be classified,” she said in a press briefing.

Garin noted that the foreigner arrived alone from Jeddah on Sept. 17 but did not display any of the MERS-CoV symptoms, allowing him to pass through airport security.

The patient stayed in a hotel but started showing symptoms on Sept. 26. It was also learned that it was only on Sept. 28 that he was taken to hospital after asking the hospital staff for assistance due to cough, high fever, occasional chills and difficulty in breathing.

“Unfortunately, the patient’s condition deteriorated and he was pronounced dead on Sept. 29. Aside from the signs and symptoms, including x-ray results suggestive of MERS, the patient also showed indication of Myocardial Infarction,” she added.

The DOH found that the patient regularly comes to the Philippines twice a year for a vacation, staying up to a month in each visit.

Contact tracing

According to Garin, the multi-sector Task Force MERS-CoV had started contact-tracing 97 people who could have been exposed to the foreigner during his stay in the country. They are composed of hotel, hospital and funeral parlor workers.

Ninety-three of these contacts were located, at least 12 of them found to be manifesting symptoms while the remaining 81 were advised to undergo home quarantine.

“All contacts were asymptomatic as of (Friday night), except for the 12 health workers currently admitted at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and the San Lazaro Hospital,” Garin said.

She claimed the 12 workers tested negative for the virus but will remain in quarantine until Oct. 13 “to ensure that no one gets infected.”

The task force is now trying to locate four contacts, including the driver of the private car that the patient was always renting when he was in the Philippines.

Zero reporting

According to Garin, the DOH will be requiring all hospitals to make a weekly “zero reporting” of MERS-CoV cases they encounter.

“Ëven if they don’t have a case, they have to report. It’s ‘zero reporting.’ The purpose of that is to constantly remind them to be aggressive and to be on the look-out for possible cases, especially now that the hajj is over,” she added.

The DOH came up with this scheme after finding that the private hospital where the foreigner was rushed had reported his case only after bringing him to the funeral parlor.

Garin said the DOH does not see a need to track down the patient’s co-passenger in the plane since he did not have symptoms then, thus, he was not infectious.


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