‘Perfect storm’ of diseases brewing if COVID-19 pandemic drags on: expert

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 29 2020 07:04 PM

People scramble to buy face masks in a medical supply store a day after Philippine government confirmed the first novel coronavirus case, in Manila, January 31, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/file

MANILA—The coronavirus pandemic will trigger a “perfect storm” of disease outbreaks in the Philippines if it rages through the flu season beginning June, an infectious diseases specialist warned on Wednesday.

Communities are more susceptible to fever, cough, and the common cold — symptoms similiar to the new coronavirus — during this time of the year, which would complicate efforts to stop COVID-19, said Dr. Benjamin Co of the University of Santo Tomas Hospital.

Last year, the Philippines also saw an outbreak of dengue, polio, and measles, which health officials blamed on decreased immunization due to fears over an anti-dengue vaccine. 

“With a pandemic of coronavirus plus other disease outbreaks that are vaccine preventable, this will create a perfect storm,” Co told an online forum by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. 

“We will have problems when the rainy season is here...We need to get out of this before that very quickly.”

Based on official health department data, COVID-19 cases in the country appear to be “plateauing” and should go down in the coming weeks, said Co.

LATE DATA

“On the assumption that all the data that we’re getting are correct… we are at the peak,” he said, but noted that cases reported by the health department were usually late because of the validation process.

COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the Philippines with a total of 8,212 infections and 558 deaths as of Wednesday. At least 1,023 patients have also recovered from the disease.

Authorities earlier said that decision on what to do with quarantine measures after May 15 would depend on the extent of infection in specific areas.

The government has been under pressure to conduct more tests to get a clearer picture of whether the community lockdowns were actually working.

“It makes no sense to extend the extension if we’re not going to do something about the data,” said Co, who cited the need to test to identify COVID-19 patients showing no symptoms of the virus.

“What I can tell you is we’re not testing enough (of them).”

HERD IMMUNITY

Co also cautioned against looking at herd immunity, where a big portion of the population will have to be infected and develop natural immunity, as a strategy to defeat COVID-19.

The other type of herd immunity comes when enough people are vaccinated, which would keep the virus at bay even if few are carriers.

“It’s kind of difficult to ascertain that if I get exposed and I develop some degree of antibody, I still don’t know how long I’m going to be immune to that particular virus,” said Co, who is also a clinical pharmacologist.

“There’s still a lot of things we don’t know about the coronavirus.”

The World Health Organization has listed at least 7 candidate vaccines for clinical evaluation and 82 others for pre-clinical evaluation.

Part of the complicated process of vaccine development is to determine how long it would protect a person or how many shots would be needed in succession over a specific period, said Co.

“We still don’t know that. What we know is there is some immunity and that immunity may not actually be full immunity, even in somebody who has previously been infected,” he said.