MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines is prepared and treating suspected cases of the new coronavirus cautiously, the Department of Health said Thursday as the illness spreads globally, claiming at least 17 lives in China.
Due to limited information available on the new strain of virus, the agency is working on an interim guidelines based on Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to DOH spokesman Enrique Domingo.
"We’re treating it as it was a very contagious illness that can be very fatal...Right now we’re erring on the side of caution and safety and treating it as if it was MERS-CoV," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"We’ve had SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS-CoV so we have this structure already ready. We just have to activate it every time there’s a national health concern."
The country has started screening passengers arriving at the capital's main airport for fever and flu symptoms, after the new strain of coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China and has sickened hundreds.
Authorities have yet to identify and trace the Manila-bound family of a Chinese man with new coronavirus, according to Domingo.
All passengers in the flight that carried the Chinese man's family did not show any symptoms, he said.
"There was nobody exhibiting symptoms. There was no fever, no one showing upper respiratory tract infection so everybody was allowed to enter the country," he said.
"Our epidemiology bureau is now trying to trace the patients and the family just in case we need to ask them a few questions. They have not been identified yet."
The Bureau of Immigration has identified the family and tracking their whereabouts in the country, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said as he offered to assist the DOH Bureau of Quarantine.
Domingo, meantime, urged the public to consult a doctor if they have any history of travel to China, particularly to Wuhan, or exposure to people who have the illness as some patients may enter the country healthy and later show signs and symptoms.
Wearing an ordinary surgical mask and maintaining personal hygiene will help individuals block the disease, he added.
"Viral illnesses are usually curable. Actually you cure yourself. You eliminate the virus from your system but until then we give supportive treatment for fever, hydration," Domingo said.
"In the 549 cases, most of them got better. There's a mortality rate of about 2 percent. Not only is it curable, it’s also preventable."
The Philippines will follow the policies and guidelines of the World Health Organization, which is holding emergency talks about the new coronavirus, Health Secretary Francisco Duque earlier said.
The pathogen has a 2-percent fatality rate so far, lower than SARS which killed about 10 to 12 percent of patients, according to Duque.