Middle East virus: No outbreak in Manila, under control in Johor

PHOTO: Middle East virus: No outbreak in Manila, under control in Johor

MANILA - There is no epidemic or outbreak of the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Mers-CoV) in the Philippines.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said yesterday: "... let me point this out: There is still no epidemic or outbreak of the Mers-coronavirus in the Middle East or the Arabian Peninsula. There is no epidemic in the Philippines."

In Malaysia, Johor Baru health officials said the Mers-CoV appeared to be under control, with no new cases found.

Dr Ona also announced that the Filipino nurse from Abu Dhabi who was earlier tagged in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an Mers-CoV carrier had tested negative.

"This suggests his body was able to overcome the virus. He was not sick at all. He was just contaminated or he got infected," Dr Lyndon Lee Suy, the health department's programme manager on infectious diseases, told reporters.

The nurse, who was on board an Etihad flight that arrived in Manila on April 15, has been discharged, along with four family members who picked him up at the airport.

Dr Ona said there were 45 foreigners on the flight, and all of them had been contacted so they could be tested.

An official from the Department of Foreign Affairs told The Sunday Times there were no Singaporeans on board that flight.

Dr Ona said of the 415 passengers on the flight, 72 had been tested, and 40 proved negative. Tests for the 32 others were still being processed, while the rest have yet to undergo testing.

He stressed that those not yet tested "are still deemed to be at risk, especially if we consider further that they all came from the Middle East, a high- risk area", and because Mers-CoV has an incubation period of two weeks.

There are some 1.5 million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia and a further 637,000 in the UAE.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia reported that two foreigners had died of Mers-CoV in the city of Jeddah.

It also said five more people were infected in the city, including two foreign medics aged 54.

The deaths of the two foreigners - a 64-year-old and a 44-year-old, whose nationalities were undisclosed - bring to 76 the overall number of people to have died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier, the World Health Organisation said it had received reports of 243 laboratory-confirmed cases of Mers-CoV infection worldwide, of which 93 had proved fatal.

Malaysia announced its first death related to the virus last Sunday, a 54-year-old man who returned from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on March 29.

The case prompted the Malaysian authorities to quarantine 64 people in the dead man's village, Kampung Bintang in Johor's Batu Pahat.

Johor State Health and Environment executive committee chairman, Datuk Ayub Rahmat, said all 64 villagers would be discharged soon, as none of them seemed to be displaying Mers-CoV symptoms.

No cases of Mers-CoV have been detected in Singapore so far.

Mers-CoV is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the Sars virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, 9 per cent of whom died. Experts are still struggling to understand the virus, for which there is no known vaccine.

This article was published on April 20 in The Straits Times.

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