Health authorities monitoring Mers cases in Filipinos

Cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus that may have infected several Filipinos are closely being monitored by the health authorities in co-ordination with embassy officials in Abu Dhabi.

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ABU DHABI // Health authorities and Philippine embassy officials in Abu Dhabi are closely monitoring medical staff who may have been infected with the Mers coronavirus.

Abundio Verzosa Esporlas, 45, died on Thursday after contracting the virus. Four paramedics and a nurse are in quarantine as a precautionary measure.

“The five Filipinos are under observation and are stable, according to the local health authorities,” said Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE. “They’re doing well and are recovering.”

A team from the embassy went to Al Ain at the weekend to check on the condition of the five patients.

Ed Cacalda, 58, an engineer in Al Ain, identified the ill as four paramedics and one nurse. He confirmed they were still being kept in quarantine but were doing well as of Monday.

The four paramedics, two men and two women, are in Al Ain Hospital and the nurse, a man from Abu Dhabi, is being treated at Mafraq Hospital.

Mr Cacalda, a friend of all five, said: “My friends and I have also been screened and the tests all came back negative for the virus.”

Mr Cacalda hosted a birthday party on April 3 attended by Mr Esporlas. The paramedic was already suffering from a fever that week.

Mr Esporlas worked as a paramedic for Al Ain Rescue and Ambulance Section, part of the Ministry of Interior.

A few months before his death he was transferred to its logistics section.

“We are in contact with his next of kin and providing consular assistance such as providing all the necessary documents,” Ms Princesa said.

Dr Asim Malik, a consultant and head of infectious disease at Mafraq Hospital, said people with flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath are asking doctors to be tested to eliminate the possibility they may have the coronavirus.

“The symptoms are just so similar to regular flu,” he said. “You cannot differentiate unless you test for it. So it is not unusual that people are coming to be tested.

“As Ramadan approaches and more people travel to and from Saudi Arabia, I expect more and more people to be tested for Mers.”

Dr Malik said the UAE was prepared to track and control infectious outbreaks and people should remain calm.

He said the “No 1 priority” was for people not to panic and to strictly adhere to advice being issued to the community.

“Don’t rely on rumours, trust experts and listen to their advice.”

Manila’s department of foreign affairs issued an advisory on Monday urging Filipinos in the Middle East to take precautions.

Cases of Mers have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Oman.

The department “continues to urge Filipino nationals in affected countries to remain calm and to heed the advice given by local health authorities such as washing hands thoroughly, using sanitisers, and observing other general hygiene practices”, the advisory said.

It added: “Those who experience any of the disease’s symptoms are urged to immediately seek medical attention.”

Globally, from September 2012, the World Health Organisation said it has been informed of 228 lab-confirmed cases of Mers, including 92 deaths.