Boy, 5, confined in Cebu, positive for coronavirus, but not 2019-nCoV

Wenilyn Sabalo

UPDATE: On January 24, 2020, three days after this story was published, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines announced that laboratory tests conducted by the Victoria Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia on specimens from the five-year-old Chinese boy yielded negative results. The boy has no novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). He was released from the hospital on the same day.

READ THE LATEST STORY: 5-year-old negative of novel coronavirus

[STORY BELOW PUBLISHED ON JANUARY 21, 2020]

A FIVE-YEAR-OLD boy who traveled to Cebu from Wuhan, China has tested positive for coronavirus (not the novel coronavirus) and was confined in an isolation room with his mother at an undisclosed hospital in Cebu City.

The boy and his mother, whom officials described as “healthy”, arrived at the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) at 3 p.m. of January 12, 2020, to enroll in a month-long English course.

The boy was brought to the hospital at 6 p.m. for manifesting fever, throat irritation and cough.

Specimens from the patient tested positive for non-specific pancoronavirus, but officials have yet to determine whether this was the same strain that afflicted hundreds in Wuhan, China.

The samples were sent to the Victoria Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia for confirmation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines clarified in a Twitter post that there is “no confirmed case” of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the Philippines.

“It is incorrect to say that the 5-year-old’s case has been confirmed as a new coronavirus strain. The purpose of sending the samples to Australia is to confirm it it’s novel coronavirus or not, similar to cases from Wuhan, China,” WHO Philippines said.

The Department of Health (DOH) is strictly monitoring MCIA and other ports for travelers experiencing respiratory symptoms following the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV in Wuhan, China.

Dr. Jaime Bernadas, DOH-Central Visayas director, said they started to implement a “double heightened alert status” in airports and seaports in the region on Jan. 11 and added around 15 to 20 quarantine personnel to help in the monitoring.

Bernadas added they also have an “implementation arrangement” with local government units, including field epidemiologists in municipalities and cities, to monitor patients in their areas for cases that need to be reported.

He said masks are available in their office and in hospitals. Its supply could be augmented if deemed necessary, he said.

Only travelers experiencing respiratory symptoms are advised to wear a mask so as not to cause people to panic, Bernadas said.

MCIA information officer Mary Ann Dimabayao said existing precautionary measures such as thermal scanners are in place at the airport.

“Stable and afebrile”

As of Tuesday, Jan. 21, the DOH said the child was still experiencing cough but was “stable and afebrile” or free from fever.

The mother, Bernadas said, is “healthy” but is in an isolation room with her child.

Samples from the patient were first tested at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and were found negative for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-related Coronavirus (Mers-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-related Coronavirus (Sars-CoV).

“However, the samples tested positive for the non-specific pancoronavirus assay, thus the specimen has been sent to Australia to identify the specific coronavirus strain,” the DOH said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) in a message on Twitter explained: “It is incorrect to say that the five-year-old’s case has been confirmed as a new coronavirus strain. The purpose of sending the samples to Australia is to confirm if it’s novel coronavirus or not, similar to cases from Wuhan, China.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in a statement, urged all health workers to be vigilant while the Bureau of Quarantine is working with airlines and airport authorities to strengthen border surveillance.

“I encourage the health workers to be vigilant and take extra precautionary measures when in contact with patients with acute respiratory infection, especially those with travel history to China,” Duque said.

He also urged travelers with symptoms of respiratory illness, either during or after travel, to seek medical attention immediately.

“I also call on our health facilities to enhance standard infection prevention and control practices, especially in our emergency departments. We must always be ready,” Duque said.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious infections such as Mers-CoV and Sars-CoV.

The common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it can cause pneumonia, acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

The new coronavirus strain, which officials described as 80 percent similar to Sars-CoV, was reported in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019.

Officials have reported three deaths and over 200 cases in China, mostly in Wuhan. The number of cases is expected to rise further as travel peaks during the Chinese New Year.

Cases have also been reported in Beijing and Shenzhen cities in China as well as in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.

The DOH said it was also monitoring three individuals who showed flu-like symptoms upon arrival from China at the Kalibo International Airport in the province of Aklan, Western Visayas.

The three persons, who have no history of travel to Wuhan and have had no contact with any confirmed 2019-nCoV case, were allowed to proceed to Boracay.

“All three cases are currently well and are no longer manifesting any symptoms,” the DOH said.

Swab samples from these patients were sent to the RITM for testing.

The DOH said it is also enhancing its coronavirus laboratory testing capacity, hospital preparedness, rapid response, and its risk communication and information dissemination.

It is also closely monitoring individuals who manifested signs of respiratory infection and had a history of travel to China and is coordinating with the WHO and the China Center for Disease Control for updates.

Initially, coronavirus was thought to be transmitted through animal contact, but recent reports show human-to-human transmission.

The DOH advises the public to practice frequent handwashing; avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals; practice proper cough etiquette, i.e., maintain distance and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of one’s elbow; avoid close contact with people showing cold or flu-like symptoms and ensure that food is well cooked. (With Sunstar Philippines)