Cabaero: Community transmission?

Nini Cabaero

THE Department of Health (DOH) said there is no local or community transmission of the virus known to cause the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). I just wanted that mentioned at the start.

But, really, after the DOH announced Friday, March 6, 2020, that the country has two new cases of the Covid-19, bringing the total to five, the fear is there that we now have local transmission.

The DOH said it is “premature” to say there is local transmission of the virus, but the World Health Organization (WHO) representative here said it may have already started in the country.

What is local or community transmission? Based on news reports, it is when an infected person did not have to travel to an affected country and likely got the virus from someone in the community. This is not the WHO technical description of it because, well, it is technical.

The two new Covid-19 cases revealed by the DOH last Friday involved a 48-year-old and 62-year-old male, both Filipinos.

The 48-year-old Filipino recently visited Tokyo, Japan and returned to the Philippines on Feb. 25, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said. The 62-year-old Filipino, on the other hand, has no record of travel abroad. He has hypertension and diabetes mellitus and he experienced cough last Feb. 25. He sought medical consultation last March 1 in a hospital in Manila and was admitted to the RITM. He tested positive for the new virus on March 5.

Duque said contact tracing or tracing the persons who these two men may have come in contact with, is now being done.

The first three confirmed cases are Chinese nationals who traveled to the Philippines.

Duque said the fifth case, the one of the 62-year-old Filipino who has no known history of travel outside the country, does not mean there is local or community transmission in the Philippines. It’s still premature to say, Duque said.

But to WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the local transmission may have already occurred in the country. “Even the fifth case is a local transmission. But getting another case in very close contact does not mean widespread transmission. We know that this disease is transmitted upon close contact,” Abeyasinghe said.

The fifth case is known to have regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City, Manila. One relative and close contact of the fifth case already showed symptoms of the new virus and has been admitted.

Since there is a danger of local transmission, what can the public do? Duque said be vigilant and always practice proper handwashing, social distancing and cough etiquette.

To add to that: What the DOH can do is to say it as it is so there is no confusion with the DOH saying one thing and the WHO saying another. If they speak as one about the situation, then the public may be able to have a deeper understanding of the risks and the action to take.