DOH: Philippines is still Ebola-free

From the Department of Health

The Department of Health (DOH) today reported that the Philippines is still Ebola-free but strictly urged any returning Filipino manifesting fever, headache, intense weakness, joint and muscle pains and sore throat to seek clearance with local health authorities from the country of employment before being allowed to embark in order to prevent the entry of Ebola virus in the country.

Secretary of Health Enrique Ona stressed that health authorities in the country is not letting its guard down on the possible entry of any emerging infectious disease (EID). He added that an interagency meeting was organized by the Office of Migrant Workers of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on June 30, 2014, to discuss the status of the overseas Filipinos in the three countries that are currently experiencing outbreaks of Ebola virus infection: Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Presently, in the countries where there are outbreaks of Ebola, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are coordinating with their recruitment agencies in assessing their risk from the disease. As the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised Alert Level Status 2 among the three affected countries, the deployment of OFWs with new contracts has been suspended. Proper coordination of Philippine labor officials (DOLE, POEA, OWWA) is now being undertaken with the DFA and the Bureau of Immigration (BI), for possible repatriation.

Once repatriated, the DOH through the Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ) will determine the status of returning Filipinos upon arrival and refer symptomatic cases to the appropriate health facilities for clinical care. Asymptomatic individuals will be closely monitored daily by the Health Emergency Management Staff (HEMS) of the DOH

So far, an initial 20 OFWs from Sierra Leone were repatriated by their recruitment agency back to the Philippines. The agency had informed OWWA of the dates of their arrival (from June 26 to July 15, 2014) and OWWA had subsequently informed the BOQ.

Close daily monitoring by DOH-HEMS of symptoms continues to take place among these OFWs. Regional health officials are on standby to facilitate the conduct and admission of possible suspected cases to the nearest DOH hospitals or medical centers.

Ebola is a severe, infectious, often fatal disease in humans and primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) caused by infection from the Ebola virus.

Ebola can be transmitted through close contact with: blood secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals, body fluids and stools of an infected person, through contaminated needles and soiled linen used by infected patients, or direct contact with the body a deceased person

Signs and symptoms of infection with Ebola virus include: fever, headache, intense weakness, joint and muscle pains, and sore throat; this is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding; sometimes, rash, red eyes, hiccups, and bleeding from body openings may be seen in some patients.

The DOH advised suspected cases to be taken immediately to the nearest health facility for medical attention. Severe cases require intensive supportive care. At present, there is no specific treatment or vaccine yet available.

According to Ona, the most at risk to contract Ebola infection are health care workers and laboratory workers who may be exposed to secretions and specimens from infected individuals. Family members and those in close contact with those who are sick can also become infected.

Prevention measures include: 1) avoid close contact with infected patients; 2) avoid consumption of the raw meat of possible infected animals like fruit bats, monkeys or apes; 3) wear gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment when taking care of ill patients at home; 4) wash hands after visiting sick relatives in the hospital and after taking care of ill patients at home.

As of July 27, 2014, the total number of cases in the three affected West African countries had risen to 1201 with a reported 672 deaths. With the case fatality rate ranging from 52 to 75%, WHO has described the Ebola epidemic in West Africa as remaining “precarious” with continuous transmission of infections in both the community and among health facilities. A recent surge in the numbers of cases in Guinea have revealed that community transmission had gone undetected and that outbreak-containment measures needs to be scaled up particularly effective contact tracing.

Aside from the three affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, a lone case of a 40-year old Liberian male national, who was a naturalized American, was reported recently to WHO to have died in Lagos, Nigeria after traveling from Liberia. He had been asymptomatic upon arrival and had presented in a hospital with symptoms of the disease.