DOH monitoring boy from China who tested positive for unidentified coronavirus

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) — The Department of Health is investigating the case of a five-year-old boy who arrived from Wuhan City, China and tested positive for a still unidentified strain of coronavirus amid an outbreak of a mysterious illness in the world's most populous country.

Ferchito Avelino, officer-in-charge of DOH's epidemiology bureau, said the child arrived in Cebu City with his mother on January 12. They came to Cebu to study English, Avelino added.

The child exhibited signs of respiratory illness such as fever, cough and throat irritation "prior to entering the Philippines" and was referred for hospital care, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a briefing on Tuesday in Manila.

He is now admitted in a hospital in Cebu City, and is "stable and afebrile," Duque added.

The unidentified boy tested negative for Middle East respiratory syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Both respiratory diseases are caused by a family of viruses called coronaviruses.

"The samples tested positive for non specific pancoronavirus assay," Duque said.

The specimen of the boy was sent to Melbourne, Australia for further testing, Duque added.

The health chief said that they could get the confirmatory test results in a day or two.

"To date, there is no confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) case in the Philippines," the World Health Organization said in a statement, referring to the virus recently identified in Wuhan, China.

The boy and his mother are currently isolated in a Cebu City hospital. The woman has not shown signs of sickness as of Tuesday, according to DOH Central Visayas regional director Jaime Bernadas.

At least 12 other people who have come in contact with the boy are also being monitored by the DOH in Central Visayas. They have not yet shown symptoms of coronavirus infection, Bernadas said.

Strict monitoring

The DOH is also monitoring three Chinese tourists who showed mild symptoms of respiratory disease. They were being tested for the novel coronavirus, which is said to be of the same family as the lethal SARS, amid fears of a new outbreak which started in China, a provincial health officer said Tuesday.

Kinuhaan po namin sila ng specimen for confirmatory tests sa RITM... Nonetheless, once bumalik sa China, dadaan ulit sa provincial hospital, susuriin po ng mga doctor natin, bibigyan po sila ng clearance,” Dr. Cornelio Cuachon, Provincial Health Officer I said over CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon on Tuesday.

[Translation: We collected their specimens for confirmatory tests. Nonetheless, before they go back to China, they will have to get tested in the provincial hospital and be issued a medical clearance first.]

Cuachon clarified Tuesday that the three tourists who arrived at the Aklan International Airport on separate dates since Friday, were not quarantined, contrary to reports.

One of the visitors was a 21-year-old woman admitted in a provincial hospital and put in an ‘isolated’ ward on Friday because of her fever. She was released the following day, Cuachon added.

The two other suspected cases -- a three-year-old girl with fever who had colds and cough, and a 65-year-old man with a fever and sore throat -- received outpatient care. They were already discharged, he added.

Duque also said that it is likely that the three foreigners do not have the mystery respiratory illness that originated in Wuhan, as they did not meet the World Health Organization’s definition of the new coronavirus, which causes a type of pneumonia.

Among them are being health workers who were in close contact with people who have manifested signs of severe acute respiratory infection and those who have a history of travel to or who lived in Wuhan City.

But the health department chief stressed authorities want to err on the side of caution that is why the visitors will still undergo confirmatory tests.

“We should always be careful,” he said.

Cuachon said the foreigners’ travel history did not indicate they went to Wuhan City.

The health officer also said that the tourists cannot leave the country until test results from the RITM could confirm that they do not have the new strain of coronavirus, which could be passed from person to person.

He said the medical clearance is a requirement before the foreigners could be allowed to go back to their country of residence.

The new coronavirus has killed at least three people and infected more than 200 people in China since December, the CNN reported Tuesday. It has since been transported to Thailand, Japan and South Korea, it added. 

The WHO said that the outbreak was believed to have originated in a seafood and animal market in Wuhan.

“Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals. In rare cases, they are what scientists call zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans,” CNN said Tuesday, citing the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At greatest risk of contracting the virus are children and the elderly, as they have weak immune systems.

The WHO said in a Twitter post Tuesday that it will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak "constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it."

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, said they are not considering travel restrictions yet as they have to first ascertain whether the new strain of coronavirus could cause "severe infection that causes death."

"We are in the early stages of trying to understand how severe this infection is and how many deaths is it likely to cause," Abeyasinghe said in a briefing with Philippine health officials.