Soldier stirs Ebola jitters

But DOH unfazed; no medical confirmation yet

ACTING Health Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin said Friday the country remains Ebola-free, even though a Filipino peacekeeper who just arrived from Liberia has a fever, one of the symptoms of the deadly virus.

“One of our peacekeepers developed fever, chills and body malaise. Since he came from Liberia, we are testing him for Ebola,” said Garin.

The Filipino peace keepers
He was initially placed in an isolation room in Caballo Island, where the peacekeepers, who arrived Nov. 12 from Liberia, are on a three-week precautionary quarantine.

Garin emphasized that they still needed to see the results of the peacekeeper’s tests to determine if he had Ebola.

“This situation shows the importance of 21-day quarantine. This patient earlier had malaria. It’s possible that there’s a recurrence of malaria or he wasn’t treated well,” said Garin.

The test results for malaria and Ebola will be out after 24 and 48 hours, respectively. If he tests negative for both diseases, Garin said, the peacekeeper will stay in the hospital until the end of the 21-day quarantine.

The patient has been moved to an undisclosed hospital where the are also reviewing the malaria treatment he received.

Garin said at the moment, there was no need for medical personnel to wear protective gear.

“This is just a fever and there are still no secretions like vomiting, urine or stool that can be the source of virus,” Garin said.

The Ebola virus causes severe fever, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, it also causes organ failure, unstoppable bleeding, and can kill victims in just days.

“Ebola is not airborne. While contagious, it is not an easy virus to catch,” said Garin as she appealed to everyone to respect the privacy of the patient and his family.

Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, program manager of the DOH Re-emerging and Infectious Diseases, assured the public that the country remains free of the virus.

The 133 UN peacekeepers arrived in the country late Wednesday afternoon, at the Philippine Air Force headquarters in Villamor Air Base.

All the 108 soldiers, 24 policemen, and a jail officer who served the UN mission in Liberia are currently under a three-week precautionary quarantine on Caballo Island, a Navy outpost at the mouth of Manila Bay.

A UN Health team said they were tested negative for the virus and were declared as “no risk”--a requisite for their repatriation.

The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday that the 2014 Ebola outbreak has already killed 5,160 people from about 14,000 cases, mostly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The Foreign Affairs Department, meanwhile, said it would raise the crisis alert level in West Africa to Level 3 tis weekend due to the outbreak of Ebola.

Department spokesman Charles Jose said that under alert level 3, Filipinos in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will be advised to avail of the government’s voluntary repatriation program while deployment of overseas Filipino workers to the three affected countries will be temporarily suspended.

Data from the DFA show there are about 880 Filipinos living in Guinea, 1,979 in Sierra Leone and 632 in Liberia.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said its records show there are 72 Filipino workers in Guinea, 398 in Sierra Leone and 202 in Liberia.

In a radio interview, Jose said the DFA is preparing for a possible evacuation of Filipinos as soon as level 3 is raised, in an apparent bid to prevent the spread of the deadly virus in the country.

The Palace said Friday that the government has stockpiled enough supplies and protective gear against the Ebola virus.

In a press briefing, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government stockpile was good for three months.

Earlier, the government said travelers from abroad must subject themselves to a strict screening process at airports and seaports, especially if they come from countries with Ebola infections.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier said that families of the overseas Filipino workers must report if a family member comes from a country with reported Ebola cases so that appropriate quarantine measures can be done.

In October, amid the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Aquino ordered the pullout of the 142 Filipino peacekeepers assigned there, saying that is it the duty of the state to protect the welfare of the soldiers. – With Vito Barcelo and Sara Susanne D. Fabunan

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