RP REMAINS SARS-FREE

Manila, April 1, 2003 -- Even as Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said 
yesterday that the Philippines remains free of the mysterious 
pneumonia-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, two more overseas 
Filipino workers (OFWs) have been placed under observation after they were 
diagnosed with SARS-like symptoms.

Dayrit said that although there have been at least 22 suspected cases 
confined in the isolation wards of the Research Institute of Tropical 
Medicine (RITM) and San Lazaro Hospital (SLH), none of them were positive 
for SARS and many were discharged with a clean bill of health.

All in all, 29 suspected SARS cases were monitored throughout the country: 
three in the Ilocos Region, two in Baguio City, one each in Cebu and Davao, 
aside from the 22 cases  12 in SLH and 10 in RITM  monitored in Metro Manila.

Dayrit said the 22 suspected SARS cases in Metro Manila voluntarily went to 
the two hospitals after suffering from flu-like symptoms, not feeling well 
and having a history of travel to SARS-affected countries.

Many of the cases were returning domestic helpers while two were nurses 
from either Hong Kong or Singapore.

The health chief said that the 40-year-old female nurse from Singapore  not 
Hong Kong, as previously reported  turned out negative for SARS.

However, Dayrit said that SARS cases might still turn up in the coming 
days, and urged the public to be vigilant. Dayrit said that reports or 
claims of any anti-SARS vaccine should not be given credence. He added that 
it was important for people who had contact with SARS cases or have a 
history of travel to any SARS-affected country to report to a hospital if 
they have trouble breathing or if they are suffering from a bout of influenza.

Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo, for her part, said two Filipinas 
who arrived from Vietnam and Singapore are now under tight watch after they 
were diagnosed with fever and flu, both symptoms of SARS.

An OFW who arrived from Singapore yesterday has been confined at the San 
Lazaro Hospital where her condition is being monitored, Domingo said.

She added that another Filipina worker who arrived from Vietnam remains 
under observation although she has been declared to be free of SARS.

Domingo assured the public that there is no confirmed case of SARS in the 
country.

"The SARS virus has not infected (anyone in) the country as of this time, 
and there should be no cause for alarm," she said.

However, the government has issued warnings against the deadly disease. "We 
are just being careful, that is why we prevent those who have symptoms 
(from passing on the infection)," Domingo said.

Airline passengers arriving from SARS-affected areas or displaying 
SARS-like symptoms have been quarantined upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino 
International Airport; most were released within a few hours.

Meanwhile, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said yesterday that 
experts believe they can soon identify the virus causing SARS, though 
finding a cure could take longer.

"I think we can identify the causative agent in quite a short time period. 
We think probably within a few days, at most a few weeks," said Hitoshi 
Oshitani, the WHO coordinator for SARS, at a news conference. "But this 
doesn't mean we will find the specific treatment for this disease within 
the short time period."

Oshitani said identifying the virus will speed up efforts to develop kits 
to diagnose the disease among potential patients.

An international multi-center research project, established a week ago 
under the ambit of the WHO, has narrowed down the possible causative agents 
to paramyxovirus and coronavirus.

In the WHO's latest count, the countries most affected by SARS are China 
with 806 cases and 34 deaths, Hong Kong with 470 cases and 10 deaths, 
Singapore with 89 cases and two deaths, and Vietnam with 58 cases and four 
deaths.

The United States recorded 59 cases, while Canada has 37 cases and had four 
deaths due to SARS. (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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