MANILA — The Department of Health said Monday it was "doubly cautious" in checking travelers from China, where a mysterious viral pneumonia outbreak hit some 59 people.
Health officers at airports are using thermal scanners on passengers from China, who have to undergo physical examination and quarantine if they have fever, colds and cough, said DOH Spokesperson and Undersecretary Eric Domingo.
"Medyo doble ingat lang naman po tayo. Basta po galing China, mas tutok lang ang ating mga thermal scanner," he told radio DZMM.
(We are doubly cautious. If passengers are from China, thermal scanners will focus more on them.)
The infection was first reported last week in Wuhan, a central Chinese city with a population of over 11 million -- leading to online speculation about a resurgence of the highly contagious SARS virus that killed hundreds more than a decade ago.
China on Sunday said the outbreak was not the flu-like virus SARS. The Wuhan police also said they punished 8 people for "publishing or forwarding false information on the internet without verification."
The symptoms reported in patients were mainly fever, with a few patients having difficulty in breathing and chest radiographs showing invasive lesions on both lungs.
Seven of the 59 patients are seriously ill but that none have died, the Wuhan health commission said. All are being treated in quarantine, it added.
To avoid contacting the disease, travelers should avoid crowded places, wear a face mask, and wash their hands frequently, said Domingo.
Those who will experience flu-like symptoms after returning to the Philippines should go to hospitals specializing in infectious disease like the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa and the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, he added.
The Wuhan infection broke out between 12 and 29 December, with some of the patients employed at a seafood market in the city that has since been closed for disinfection.
No obvious evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found so far, added the province's health commission.
The World Health Organization said the concentration of cases should be handled "prudently," adding that it was against imposing any travel or trade restrictions on China.
SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2003.
The virus, which infected more than 8,000 people around the world, is believed to have originated in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, according to WHO.
WHO criticized China for under-reporting the number of cases following the outbreak.
China sacked its then health minister Zhang Wenkang for the poor handling of the crisis, several months after the first case was reported.
WHO announced that China was free of SARS in May 2004.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse