SAN PEDRO CITY, Philippines—The Department of Health (DOH) has barred priests from administering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or last rites, to those infected with the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) even as another returning overseas Filipino worker showed symptoms of the deadly disease.
Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin, however, allayed fears of easy contamination as long as there was no direct exposure to the person carrying the virus through saliva, coughing, sneezing or other means.
“Because (of the) priests’ ministry to the sick that requires them to face and make direct contact with the patient, they are strictly prohibited from doing it, for the meantime, to avoid contamination and passing it on to parishioners,” Garin told parents, teachers, students and city officials at the Pacita Elementary School here on Friday.
A 20-year-old woman from North Cotabato is currently under isolation at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center (CRMC) in Cotabato City after she showed symptoms of MERS-CoV, the hospital’s chief confirmed on Saturday.
Dr. Helen Yambao, CRMC chief of hospital, said the woman—whom she declined to identify—returned to the Philippines on Feb. 6 from Jordan where she worked as a domestic helper.
Jordan is among countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula, where cases of MERS-CoV had been reported since 2012. The others were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Yemen, Lebanon and Iran.
Garin explained that MERS-CoV was not an airborne disease, hence, could not be passed on to a healthy person unless he has direct contact with the infected patient when the latter coughs, sneezes or makes contact with the carrier’s saliva.
The parish council of Pacita 2-Guevarra Parish has also made an urgent call for churchgoers to refrain from receiving Holy Communion on the tongue starting Saturday as part of preventive measures.
Three of the nurses working at Evangelista Medical Specialty Hospital, who have been quarantined for days, are all members of the parish.
Garin said the wearing of ordinary flimsy masks is useless because the MERS-CoV virus is so microscopic in size it could easily penetrate the masks if the person makes direct contact with the MERS-CoV carrier.
“The best way to prevent the disease is to avoid direct contact, wash hands properly before eating and be conscious about body hygiene,” she said.
Virus contained at RITM
Garin also said there was no need for parents to prevent their children from attending classes because the virus was now contained at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) where a MERS-CoV infected nurse who returned from Saudi Arabia on Feb. 1 is now confined.
She said there’s no danger of easy contamination from the staff of Evangelista Medical Specialty Hospital that is located across the school.
Garin said the staff of the hospital had been put under quarantine until Feb. 20 to ensure their establishment is totally disinfected before it resumes operations.
She said the temporary closure and putting of the hospital under precautionary measures do not necessarily mean the health facility and its staff are contaminated.
“The DOH and World Health Organization would just want to be very sure that the virus is totally neutralized,” said Garin.
On Saturday, the DOH announced that 30 of the copassengers of the nurse from Saudi Arabia had tested negative for the virus.
30 tested negative
“Of the copassengers, 30 were tested and all were negative,” Garin told reporters.
Authorities are still tracking down the rest of the 220 passengers of Saudi Airlines flight SV860. So far, only 92 have been located.
In Cotabato City, Yambao told reporters that the OFW from Jordan was suffering from a fever and cough so she voluntarily went to her town’s health center for a checkup and medication.
She was then sent to the CRMC, where she had been in isolation since Thursday.
Yambao said health workers at the CRMC had taken sputum and throat swabs from the patient, which they then sent to the RITM.
She said that once the results come out and turn out positive, health workers will start tracking the people she had close contact with, including family members and rural health workers of the town she came from.