The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday gave assurances that it is prepared to respond to the threat of new potential infectious diseases such as the severe respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus being reported from the Middle East.
“Our experience in the previous global public health emergencies such as the SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] coronavirus in 2002 to 2003, the pandemic influenza H1N1 in 2009 to 2010 has given us the necessary capacity to respond to similar threats,” Health Secretary Enrique Ona said.
SARS is a severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus. It is transmitted by contact with infectious material (such as respiratory droplets or body fluids), and is characterized by fever, headache, body aches, a dry cough, hypoxia, and usually pneumonia.
The DOH said that the National Epidemiology Center (NEC) is in charge of the public health surveillance in collaboration with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the Bureau of Quarantine.
Ona said that the RITM has a fully equipped laboratory, hospital facilities and trained personnel to respond to potential virus threats while the Bureau of Quarantine can screen travelers visiting the country for illnesses that may pose as health threats.
Recently, the UK Health Protection Agency reported a laboratory-confirmed case of severe respiratory illness associated with a new type of coronavirus. The patient is from the Middle East but was diagnosed in a London hospital.
“I have instructed the NEC to coordinate with the World Health Organization [WHO] for regular updates on this situation and to adapt the case definition shared by WHO to identify suspect cases; the RITM to be on alert for possible detection and management of cases in the country; the Bureau of Quarantine for routine screening of passengers and their subsequent evaluation or treatment at RITM when needed,” Ona said.