Philippines Investigates Potential Coronavirus Case

Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo Rinoza
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200121-PH-CH-virus-620.jpg Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III speaks to reporters following a measles outbreak, March 6, 2018.

Philippine officials on Tuesday reported the country’s likely first case of the new coronavirus, saying a 5-year-old Chinese boy from Wuhan city, where the disease appears to have originated, had shown symptoms and was under strict observation.

The boy, confined at a hospital in central Cebu City, was detected to have fever, throat irritation and cough upon his arrival in the Philippines from Wuhan on Jan. 12, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told reporters.

Duque said samples were sent to specialists in Australia to identify which coronavirus strain the boy was carrying.

“Samples from the patient were first tested at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and yielded negative results for the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome-related coronavirus or more often referred to as MERS-COV and severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus,” Duque told reporters in Manila.

He said the samples tested positive for non-specific coronavirus, meaning it could be the Wuhan coronavirus or any of the other four existing coronaviruses that can infect humans.

“There are coronaviruses that can cause very mild symptoms. 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,” he said.

“In severe cases, it could cause pneumonia, respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death,” Duque said.

The new coronavirus has already claimed the lives of at least six people while more than 200 have been infected internationally, according to news service reports on Tuesday.

If proven to be the Wuhan coronavirus, the boy would be the first case reported in the Philippines. Thailand has detected two cases linked to travelers from China.

As of Tuesday, the boy had a cough, although his condition is stable and his fever broke, according to health officials.

Duque said health workers should be vigilant in dealing with suspected cases, especially if patients had a known history of travel to China.

“I urge travelers with symptoms of respiratory illness, either during or after travel, to seek medical attention immediately,” Duque said. “I also call on our health facilities to enhance standard infection prevention and control practices, especially in our emergency departments.”

WHO efforts

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the World Health Organization’s representative in the Philippines, said the U.N. agency was working with member states to better understand the new SARS-like disease.

SARS originated in China in 2002 and killed about 775 people, according to health figures. MERS, meanwhile, was identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and killed about 850.

“We need to emphasize that at this point of time there are still a lot of unknown issues. We are not sure of the source of the virus … where it came from … an animal or another source. We believe that there may be human-to-human transmission, however, this is a premature situation,” Abeyasinghe said.

Aside from the boy, three other Chinese tourists – a 21-year-old woman, a 3-year-old girl and a 65-year-old man – were being monitored after exhibiting mild symptoms of respiratory disease, according to provincial health officer Dr. Cornelio Cuachon.

“We collected their specimens for confirmatory tests. Nonetheless, once they go back to China, they will have to get tested in the provincial hospital and be issued a medical clearance,” Cuachon said.

“They do not have a history of travel to Wuhan City, where the mysterious pneumonia started,” he said.


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