Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), previously known as novel coronavirus (nCoV), is a viral respiratory illness, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia, in 2012. The source of MERS is currently unknown, though it is likely to have originated from an animal.
The MERS virus is currently spreading in South Korea. This, in combination with the fact that coronaviruses can often mutate, is leading to increased fears it could become a pandemic.
MERS-CoV is dissimilar to other coronaviruses; there is currently no vaccine.
Most confirmed cases of MERS-CoV have displayed symptoms of severe acute respiratory illness. Approximately 36% of reported patients with MERS have died.
The Department of Labor and Employment issued the advice as it noted the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has released advisories to alert OFWs of the MERS-CoV threat.
In a statement, the DOLE also quoted Philippine Labor Attaché to South Korea Felicitas Bay as saying they have not received information on any Filipino infected with MERS-CoV, but added the POLO has advised OFWs to observe precautionary health measures.
The measures, which include those earlier stated by the Philippine embassy in Seoul, include:
1. Practice healthy habits such as regular exercise, balanced diet, and adequate sleep of at least eight hours.
2. Wash your hands with soap or hand rubs with alcohol before and after eating; before and after handling, cooking and preparing food; after coughing, sneezing and using the toilets; and after touching animals.
3. Avoid touching your face, especially the eye area, nose, and mouth, with unwashed hands.
4. Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces such as door knobs, handles.
5. Practice proper cough etiquette by covering your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing.
6. Use a facial tissue when coughing or sneezing and cover your mouth and nose with it. Dispose of the tissue in a waste basket.
7. Avoid contact with farm and domesticated animals, including camels.
8. Avoid contact with sick or infected with MERS-CoV. If you have respiratory illness, stay home and wear a surgical mask (ideally N95) to protect your family members.
9. Avoid going out unnecessarily. Stay put inside your homes and avoid public—especially confined—spaces. If travel cannot be avoided, please wear protective mask and observe proper hand hygiene at all times.
10. Make sure children follow these precautions.
11. If you are a health worker, strictly follow infection control protocols in your work.
12. If you were in close contact with a confirmed MERS-CoV patient, comply with local health regulations and postpone any trip abroad until after test results are negative. Health workers who have been exposed to MERS-CoV patients are requested to undergo testing.
13. Know the symptoms of MERS-CoV (fever, shortness of breath, breathing difficulty, coughing, diarrhea and kidney failure).
14. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you are advised to undergo voluntary testing at your nearest hospital.
“We must continue to be cautious, especially that this infection is present in an OFW host country,” said DOLE secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.
Filipinos who are positive for MERS-Cov are requested to inform the Philippine Embassy “so it can inform relevant Korean authorities and refer you to proper medical facilities equipped to handle MERS-infected patients,” the DOLE said.