Fighting MERS-CoV

The Department of Health and the Department of Foreign Affairs have issued a joint bulletin to raise public awareness over the dreaded Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus. Though not yet of epidemic proportions, the number of casualties arising from this virus continues to rise, especially in the Middle East.

The World Health Organization reported that MERS-CoV has so far infected 243 worldwide and killed 93 patients since March 2012. The virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia back in 2012.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect both humans and animals. For MERS-CoV, common symptoms include acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. Most patients contracted pneumonia, while some exhibited gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.

Unfortunately, medical research on this strange virus has yet to yield specific answers as to the definite source of the virus and how an infected person can be cured.

What has been clearly established by medical experts are the multiple cases involving human-to-human transmission particularly in health care facilities, among family members and between co-workers.

How can you protect your loved ones from contracting the virus? Basic tenets of personal hygiene apply.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds and help young children do this as well. If soap and water are not available, one can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

One must cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and then throw the tissue in the trash immediately.

The CDC also advises everyone to avoid close contact with sick people through kissing, sharing cups, or utensils.

These are basic tips that we have all known for ages but to be honest, how many of us really wash our hands as frequently as we should? I’ve also been in public places where people cough and sneeze at will, without covering their mouths. With the number of new viruses assailing our immune system, it may be a good practice to be more conscientious with our personal hygiene and health etiquette.

In Saudi Arabia, the rising number of MERS-CoV cases claimed one major political casualty—the Arab health minister had to resign to give way to Labor Minister Adel Fakeih who now holds both ministries concurrently.

Acting Health Minister Fakeih had set up two committees to consider the request of King Saud Hospital not to receive cases due to lack of isolation rooms, lack of enough medical and nursing personnel as well as a shortage of hospital beds.

According to Saudi health authorities, Jeddah has recorded the largest number of infections by the deadly coronavirus followed by Riyadh and Makkah. However, the number of cases is low enough not to cause panic considering that quite a number of those infected were also able to recover after receiving support treatment.

We in the Philippines would have to remain on guard against the entry of the virus through returning workers who may not be aware that they are carriers of MERS-CoV. The appeal of the Department of Health for returning OFWs from the Middle East to get checked right away if they show or feel any symptoms typical of a MERS-CoV case should be heeded by our workers, for the sake of their own families and communities.

That an OFW in the United Arab Emirates died from MERS-CoV reminds us that we are all in this together. We need to do our share to keep the Philippines free from this dreaded, mysterious virus that has the world’ best medical experts searching for a cure to reduce its fatalities.

Let us continue to pray for our OFWs in the Middle East and for all nationalities in the region that they may be spared from MERS-CoV.

(Visit for more information about MERS-CoV).

Panorama Link: Fighting MERS-CoV

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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