DOH probes suspected coronavirus case in Cebu

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    THE Department of Health is investigating the case of a 5-year-old Chinese boy with a travel history to Wuhan, the central Chinese city where a new coronavirus was discovered, who has been admitted in a Cebu City hospital and could be the first case of the deadly virus in the country.

    The boy was confined to the hospital several hours after he arrived in the country last Jan. 21 with his mother after he manifested fever, throat irritation and cough, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told a media briefing.

    Duque said the boy tested positive for coronavirus, but it could not be ascertained what strain until the government gets back samples it sent to Australia.

    Duque also said the agency was monitoring three other Chinese who arrived from China with flu-like symptoms, but without any history of travel to Wuhan.

    “Samples from the patient were first tested at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and yielded negative results for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-related Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-related Coronavirus (SARS-CoV),” Duque said.

    “However, the samples tested positive for the non-specific pancoronavirus assay, thus the specimen has been sent to Australia to identify the specific coronavirus strain,” Duque said, adding the results from the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Australia are expected within 24 to 48 hours.

    The latest coronavirus strain discovered in Wuhan is known by its code 2019-nCoV).

    DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Dr. Ferchito Avelino explained that there are six known strains of the coronavirus, including MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.

    “It could be any of the other four strains of coronavirus, and not necessarily the 2019-nCoV,” Avelino said.

    Some experts say the strain may not be as deadly as some other strains of coronavirus such as SARS-Cov, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also originated from China.

    Little is known about the new virus, including its origin, but authorities in China have confirmed the virus can be spread through human contact, reporting 15 medical staff had been infected and a fourth person had died.

    Duque said the boy, who is here to “learn English,” is currently at the undisclosed hospital and is still experiencing cough but is currently stable and has no fever. His mother is showing no symptoms of the coronavirus, Duque said.

    DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said they have conducted contact tracing with people seated next to the boy in the plane.

    “We immediately did contact tracing for those up to four seats away from the patient. They are showing no symptoms,” said Domingo.

    Duque said they are also closely monitoring three Chinese who entered the country via the Kalibo International Airport from China. He said they exhibited flu-like symptoms although they have no history of travel to Wuhan or any known contact with a confirmed 2019-nCoV case, SARS case, or sick animals.

    He said the three are not considered as persons under investigation since they did not travel to Wuhan.

    “They did not fit the case definition by the World Health Organization to be considered as suspected cases of 2019-nCoV,” Duque. He added that throat samples from the three have been sent to RITM for testing as of yesterday.

    All three, Domingo said, have been discharged as they are no longer manifesting any symptoms.

    Since December 31, a total of 222 cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported in China, majority of them coming from Wuhan. Thailand, Japan, and South Korea have also confirmed 2019-nCoV cases in their jurisdictions.

    The WHO sought to allay fears, saying it is still too early to panic over the possibility of an epidemic of the 2019-nCoV.

    WHO Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said much remains unknown about the virus, including its mode of transmission and severity.

    “It’s too early to say that is a very severe infection that causes death. We are in the early stages of trying to understand how severe this infection is and how many deaths it is likely to cause,” said Abeyasinghe.

    Duque said the Bureau of Quarantine is working with airlines and airport authorities to strengthen border surveillance.

    He added the Epidemiology Bureau is heightening its community surveillance, including closely monitoring individuals who manifest signs of respiratory infection and had a history of travel to China.

    Duque also advised the public to practice frequent handwashing, avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals, practice proper cough etiquette, maintain distance and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of your elbow, avoid close contact with people showing cold or flu-like symptoms, and ensure that food is well-cooked. – With Reuters