Nurse returning from Saudi is first to test positive for MERS-CoV in Philippines

PHILIPPINE health officials reported on Wednesday the first case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to be diagnosed in the country.

The health ministry said a 32-year-old nurse from Saudi Arabia contracted a deadly strain of the coronavirus, which causes severe respiratory illness, and is now confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) south of the capital Manila. She is in stable condition, the ministry said in a statement.

The patient arrived with her husband in the Philippines on Feb 1 on board Saudia flight 880.

She arrived without exhibiting signs of MERS-CoV.

The next day, however, she went to a hospital after showing flu-like symptoms. The hospital then sent samples taken from her to RITM.

Two tests released on Feb 9 were positive for MERS-CoV. The patient was sent to RITM, and a third test also yielded positive results.

Her husband has not shown signs of MERS-CoV but has also been quarantined.

Dr Lyndon Lee Suy, the health ministry's spokesman, said in a news briefing that this was the first case of Mers-CoV to be diagnosed in the Philippines. Health officials said contact tracing of 225 passengers who were on board Saudia flight 880 was already being done.

MERS-CoV have killed at least six Filipinos in the Middle East.

The Philippines recorded its first case of MERS-CoV on home soil in April last year: A Filipino nurse who had come into contact with a Filipino paramedic who died in the United Arab Emirates.Another Filipino nurse tested positive for the virus last September.Both were diagnosed abroad and quickly isolated after they arrived in the Philippines. Both have since recovered.

President Benigno Aquino said on Wednesday he had instructed Health Minister Janette Garin "to ensure that all necessary preventive measures are taken".

MERS-CoV has infected 971 people and killed 356 as of Feb 5, according to the World Health Organisation.

The first case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and most infections have been detected in countries in and near the Arabian peninsula.

rdancel@sph.com.sg