Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday said about 11 foreigners are under investigation for suspected infection of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
In an interview over CNN, Duque said the 11 patients under investigation (PUIs) are “of international nationalities including an American, Brazilian, Chinese, and German”.
“We’re closely monitoring 11 PUIs, which means they more often than not presented symptoms with fever, cough colds, some shortness of breath, and travel history in Wuhan,” he added.
The PUIs have been recorded in different hospitals in Muntinlupa City, Pasay City, Kalibo in Aklan, Tacloban in Leyte, El Nido in Palawan, Cebu City, and Camiguin.
Duque said they have sent the PUIs’ initial tests to the local Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
“Kung mag-positive, hindi pa papauwiin. Magpapadala ng confirmatory test sa (If the tests turn out positive, they won’t be sent home. A confirmatory test will be sent to) Melbourne, Australia,” he said.
He added that the PUIs are in quarantine — one in Central Visayas, nine in Western Visayas and three in the National Capital Region, including the mother and her son from Cebu who tested negative of the virus.
In a Laging Handa press briefing in Malacañang, Duque said the 11 PUIs have histories of travel from Wuhan City in Hubei province, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Of the 11 PUIs, some have been discharged while some are in the process of being released, Duque said.
Earlier, DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said there is no verified nCoV case in the country.
Domingo said specimen samples from the five-year-old Chinese boy suspected of having the virus tested negative at the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia.
Asked of the possibility that Filipino workers in Wuhan will be repatriated, Duque said it is a consideration that will be discussed with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday afternoon.
Since nCoV was identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 this year, there are a total of 80 deaths out of the 2,244 cases in China.
Persons infected with nCoV experience fever, cough, respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath, and difficulty of breathing. In more advanced cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and death.
The case fatality rate of nCoV is at 2.7 percent, which is significantly lower than the fatality rate for other strains of coronavirus such as MERS-CoV (34-36 percent) and SARS-CoV (10 to 12 percent).
Self-protection vs nCoV
As part of its self-protection measures against nCoV and similar viruses, the DOH chief urged the public to avoid contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products, particularly stray cats and dogs, rodents, birds, and bats.
He also said that the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should also be avoided.
“Dapat itigil po natin ito (We should refrain from doing this). Never eat raw meat,” Duque said, warning it could result in various illnesses.
He also encouraged the public anew to practice frequent hand-washing, avoid symptomatic individuals, practice proper coughing etiquette, consume enough water, and immediately seek medical help when experiencing symptoms.
“Avoid shaking of hands this time. Sometimes at the most, fist bump. Avoid beso-beso (social cheek kiss),” Duque said.
Individuals can be exposed to nCov in three different ways such as through direct contact of a confirmed case of nCoV, through interaction with a health professional in a facility taking care of confirmed nCoV case, and through visiting the live animal market in Wuhan.
Currently, there is no specific treatment recommended for nCoV. Patients with nCoV could only be given supportive care to relieve their symptoms.
China has allocated a total of 11.21 billion yuan (about USD1.63 billion) to curb the spread of novel coronavirus.
Duque, meanwhile, denied reports of positive nCoV cases in Metro Manila, stressing that the DOH does not have the capability to identify the nCoV which is why specimen samples have to be sent to Australia for confirmation.
He made this clarification amid reports that there is a confirmed nCoV case in a hospital in Alabang in Muntinlupa City.
He also called on media outlets to avoid the spread of “info-demic” or false information regarding nCoV which may cause unnecessary fear or panic among the public.
“I call upon the responsible media practitioners in our midst that let’s not be used by unscrupulous groups whose agenda is to propagate info-demic,” Duque said.
“Let’s not be a party to such a propagation otherwise this misinformation can be more viral than the virus that we all are guarding against,” he added.
He also allayed fears that the 11 PUIs were a cause for alarm since they have already been isolated in hospitals while health authorities have also scaled up laboratory and hospital preparedness.