OFWs Told: Avoid Camels

MANILA – The World Health Organization (WHO) urged overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Arab states to avoid camels to prevent contracting the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV), following the first confirmed case of the disease in the Philippines.

WHO Philippine representative Julie Hall said that while the exact cause of MERS-CoV has not yet been established, avoiding “camels, camel meat and raw camel milk” could help OFWs in the Middle East avoid contracting the disease.

According to Hall, the months of February, March and April are the peak season for MERS-CoV in the Middle East.

“No one knows for sure at this moment, but we think it has something to do with camel breeding and camel trading. It seems to happen during those months and then perhaps the camels are passing the virus between them and, occasionally, humans catch them,” she explained.

Given the large number of OFWs in the Middle East, Hall admitted that more cases could enter the Philippines in the coming months.

She cited the large number of Filipinos working in the health care setting in Arab countries. But she said infection control in hospitals in the Middle East has improved considerably over the last few years, “so let’s hope there are fewer health care workers catching the virus in the Middle Eastern hospitals this year.”

Last Feb. 10, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed that a 32-year-old Filipino nurse who was four weeks pregnant had contracted MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia where she was working.

The nurse could not ascertain how she acquired the virus because she was not handling MERS-CoV patients.

Of the 56 people who came in close contact with her, 11 have manifested symptoms, including her husband who arrived with her from Saudi Arabia last Feb.1 via Saudia Airlines flight 860.

As of Friday, the DOH was able to track down 92 other passengers of the plane.

Hall said that given the volume of travelers between the Middle East and the Philippines, it is important for the Philippine government “to remain very vigilant, particularly over what we have seen as the peak season for MERS-CoV.”

Hall also urged OFWs in health care setting in the Middle East to follow all of the guidelines on infection control.

“For the people coming back to the Philippines, if you have been in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates or any of the other countries that are reporting MERS-CoVcases, make sure to mention to your doctor if you are not feeling well so that they can think MERS early rather than later,” she added.

DOH Acting Secretary Janette Garin said that Hall’s concerns have already been raised during an inter-agency meeting among the DOH, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration last Thursday.

Garin said monitoring activities and education campaign for OFWs would be intensified to make sure that they know how to protect themselves against the virus. This would be done by working closely with the workers’ employers and recruitment agencies.

(Source: Sheila Crisostomo, The Philippine Star)

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