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MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – A 36-year-old foreigner has tested positive for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed.
The patient, whose name and nationality were withheld, had traveled from Saudi Arabia, passing by Dubai in the Middle East, Health Secretary Janette Garin said on Monday, July 6.
The foreigner is currently in isolation at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and is recovering.
The DOH said the patient had begun developing the symptoms of MERS – coughing and fever – on July 2. He was tested around 11:30 am on Saturday, July 4.
The tests yielded a positive result around 5 pm.
Garin said the patient has been responding to treatment and is likely to recover soon.
"Kasalukuyan siyang binabantayan, stable and very cooperative. Nakitang mababa ang viral load ng pasyente. Ibig sabihin, hindi ganoon kadami ang MERS coronavirus sa katawan niya at posibleng gumagaling na ito," she said.
(We are currently observing him, he is in stable condition and very cooperative. The patient has a low viral load, which means there is not a lot of the virus in his body and it's possible that he's already recovering.)
Downplaying fears of transmission, the health secretary said contact tracing is currently ongoing to identify other people who may have had contact with the patient.
Eight close contacts of the patient have already been identified and are now under quarantine at the RITM. One patient is currently being tested after she developed coughs, the DOH added.
Health spokesperson Lyndon Lee Suy said the patient did not exhibit any symptoms of MERS when he entered the Philippines, which explains why the thermal scanners did not raise alarm.
'Government in control'
Malacañang assured the public that the government is in control of the situation.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said President Benigno Aquino III ordered the health department to increase monitoring measures at ports of entry in the country.
He said Aquino also instructed the DOH to make sure that all hospitals swiftly report possible MERS-CoV cases.
“President Aquino has tasked the DOH to tighten surveillance and quarantine measures at ports of entry and to ensure the prompt reporting by all hospitals of patients who show symptoms of the disease for immediate isolation, treatment and contact tracing,” Coloma said in a statement.
The health secretary also urged the public to remain calm, explaining that there is no documented case of community transmission of the virus.
"We are reminding the public that there is no documented community transmission of MERS. Transmission usually happens inside the hospital and with the close contacts of the patient," Garin said.
Meanwhile, the DOH has organized a task force to trace around 200 passengers who were on the same flight with the patient.
The department also urged Filipinos who have recently returned from the Middle East to report to the nearest hospital if they experience the flu-like symptoms of MERS.
The Philippine MERS case comes as a deadly outbreak in South Korea spreads alarm across Asia.
In South Korea, which is suffering the worst outbreak of MERS outside Saudi Arabia, 185 people have been diagnosed with the disease with 33 fatalities, the government there said.
Of those infected, 41 remain hospitalised, with 11 in a critical condition.
The Philippine health department has been on alert in recent weeks for the possible entry of the virus that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, particularly among the 88,000 South Koreans living in the country.
Health authorities earlier examined three South Korean expatriates who developed respiratory ailments, but all tested negative for MERS, Suy said.
Elsewhere in Asia, Malaysia reported a case before the South Korean outbreak in May, while China reported a person with MERS who had travelled to the country after recent exposure in South Korea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
MERS is a fatal, influenza-like illness characterized by fever and cough, often with diarrhea. (READ: FAST FACTS: The MERS Coronavirus)
As of June 2015, the WHO has recorded 1338 laboratory-confirmed cases since 2012 in 26 countries, including at least 475 deaths. – Katerina Francisco, with reports from Camille Elemia and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com