RITM on top of preparations for possible Ebola cases

Jee Y. Geronimo
RITM on top of preparations for possible Ebola cases
Health Secretary Enrique Ona says the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and several other hospitals have 'enough' capacity to test the deadly Ebola virus

MANILA, Philippines – The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) on Tuesday, August 5, assured Filipinos it is “on top” of preparations to make sure that the Philippines can address possible cases of Ebola infection.

‘Pag may dumating [na Ebola patients], we will take care of them (If Ebola patients come, we will take care of them),” RITM director Socorro Lupisan told reporters at the sidelines of a press conference Tuesday.

The Ebola virus can be transmitted through bodily fluids, causing severe fever, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. (READ: Fast Facts: Ebola)

In some cases, it can also cause organ failure and unabated bleeding. It can kill victims in a matter of days.

“With Ebola, the patient has to manifest the symptoms first before being capable to transmit infection,” Health Spokesperson Lee Suy earlier explained. 

In a video presented at the press conference, RITM showed one of the 6 negative pressure isolation rooms “which prevent the spread of infectious agents from the suspected cases.”

The negative pressure allows air to enter the isolation room but not to escape the room, the video explained.

All other infection control measures are in place, Lupisan said, including the personal protective equipment for RITM’s laboratory and clinical staff.

Lupisan said the government facility located in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, can accommodate up to 9 patients, but they can provide other isolation rooms if necessary.

Screening process 

What will RITM do once a patient shows symptoms of Ebola?

“If you are symptomatic, we will test you, and we will have the result in two days. We will keep you there especially if you are symptomatic. We will quarantine you until we have the test results,” Lupisan said.

Once a patient suspected with Ebola is admitted to a negative pressure isolation room, samples will be taken from the patient for testing. The specimen will be sent to RITM’s P-3 laboratory for inactivation – a process conducted to eliminate pathogens from the specimen being tested.

After inactivation, the specimen will be processed for ELISA or the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay. ELISA, a method that follows the protocol set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measures anti-bodies against Ebola.

Lupisan said the laboratory test is “very sensitive.”

Since there is still no vaccine yet for the Ebola virus, Lupisan said the treatment for now is “very supportive.” The treatment includes hydration, transfusion, and other supportive care.

As of Friday, August 1, the World Health Organization said there have been 1,603 cases of Ebola and 887 deaths in the 4 west African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. (READ: Ebola death toll rises to 887 – WHO)

Other preparations

Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Tuesday said “several other hospitals” also have “enough” capacity to test not only Ebola, but even Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the MERS Coronavirus.

“DOH has made all the necessary preparations,” Ona said during the press conference. (READ: Ona: Philippines ready for Ebola)

In a statement Tuesday, Vice President Jejomar Binay warned that the Philippines – “one of the world’s leading labor-exporting countries” – is more vulnerable to a massive Ebola outbreak.

To prevent the virus from reaching the country, he said there is a need for the government to provide adequate isolation and hydration facilities to hospitals, as well as protective wear for health workers.

“At the same time, we need to roll out an intensive information campaign that will educate the people on this issue, to eliminate both panic and complacency,” he added.

Binay, also the presidential adviser on OFW Concerns, said adequate screening and tracking in ports of entry will be required.

Philippine airports already have thermal scanners to detect arriving passengers with fever. Passengers are also asked to fill up a health checklist upon arrival in the country.

CHECKLIST. Passengers arriving in the Philippines fill-up this health checklist. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler

The Department of Foreign Affairs already raised crisis alert level 2 in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, instructing Filipinos to “restrict non-essential movements, avoid public places, and take extra precautions.” (READ: Filipinos in west Africa warned vs Ebola)

This also means the country will allow only OFWs with existing employment contracts to go to these countries; deployment of workers with new contracts remains suspended.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration is doing weekly monitoring of OFWs currently deployed in the Ebola-hit west African countries. The DOH is also closely monitoring 7 OFWs who recently came home from Sierra Leone

Ona said to date, the Philippines remains Ebola-free. – Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.