DOH probes suspected case of novel coronavirus in Cebu City

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Department of Health (DOH) announced on Tuesday, January 21, that it is investigating a suspected case of novel coronavirus in Cebu City.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced in a news briefing on Tuesday that the case involved a 5-year-old Chinese boy who arrived in Cebu City from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of cases of the SARS-like virus. The child had fever, throat irritation, and cough prior to entering the Philippines, he said.

"The samples from the child tested negative for MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. The sample, though, had been sent to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Australia to identify what kind of coronavirus it is," he added. 

Health officials expected the test results to come out on Thursday, January 23. 

Duque said the patient "is still experiencing cough but is currently stable and afebrile" or no longer feverish.

The DOH referred to the case as "non-specific pancoronavirus," which means it could be the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) or any of the 4 other existing coronaviruses that can infect humans. 

There are coronaviruses that can cause very mild symptoms, Duque said. “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious infections such as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. Common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties,” he added.

Duque held the news briefing  a day after it was reported that the provincial health office of Aklan quarantined 3 Chinese travelers who were detected as having fever upon their arrival at the Kalibo International Airport.

The Aklan provincial health office said on Monday, January 20, that throat swabs and blood samples were taken from the 3 who all came on different flights on January 17, 18, and 20.  They were later allowed to proceed to Boracay, their destination, after their fever and breathing difficulty subsided. 

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) said test results on the samples from the 3 persons in Aklan were expected “within 24 to 48 hours.” 

Referring tothe Chinese travelers, Duque said, "The signs and symptoms manifested by the 3 Chinese nationals did not fit the case definition as prescribed by the WHO interim guidelines on the new coronavirus."

He said the 3 "had no history of travel to Wuhan, and without any known contact with a confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus case, Severe Acute Respiratory illness case, or sick animals."

The SARS-like viral disease caused by what the World Health Organization (WHO) and the medical community are calling the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), was initially reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Chinese health officials said it could be transmitted between humans. 

Cases have since been reported in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai and the province of Guangdong. South Korea, Japan, and Thailand have also reported cases of the disease, which was found in people who visited Wuhan. So far, a total of 218 people have been diagnosed with the virus. 

This novel strain is the 7th known type of coronavirus that humans can contract. The 2019 nCoV, according to WHO, is “a never-before-seen strain belonging to a broad family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as SARS.” (READ: What is coronavirus? New disease spreading in Asia revives SARS fears

SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome is a potentially deadly illness that spread in 2003 and killed over 800 in China and Hong Kong. It started in China and quickly spread in Asia, even reaching Europe and North America. It was transmitted through coughing and sneezing. 

In the Philippines, SARS claimed two deaths in 2003 – a Filipino nursing assistant visiting from Canada and her father, whom she had infected.

SARS may start out like flu. Initial symptoms of the disease are: fever over 38 °C, chills, muscle aches and soreness. After 2 to 7 days, infected people develop dry cough, which affects oxygen intake. SARS can then lead to pneumonia, heart failure, and liver failure, especially if infected people have existing illnesses like diabetes and hepatitis. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier in January ordered the health department’s Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) to strengthen its surveillance of incoming travelers from China after initial reports of the disease in Wuhan.

Duque said the BOQ will be on high alert, especially with travelers manifesting fever or signs of respiratory infection. He also urged the public, especially those who have recently traveled from China, to seek immediate medical consult if they have been experiencing flu-like symptoms. 

The BOQ will with airlines on Wednesday, January 22, to remind them of measures to observe in light of the virus. The BOQ said it would ensure that airlines have universal protective kits on board and remind them of protocols in handling cases on board and reporting cases to authorities. – Rappler.com