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Special Features | National

EPIDEMIC OF PANIC | Feared 'flesh-eating disease' in Pangasinan a bad case of psoriasis – DOH

Health Secretary Ona: categorically shoots down fears of "flesh-eating" disease.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines – Ignorance and panic often make the worst combination in  cases of a “mystery disease” and the latest example of how misinformation can fan paranoia and deepen the suffering of people is found in Pangasinan, where fears that “flesh-eating” bacteria similar to that reported in the US have spread lately.

Moving to stem the panic, the Department of Health (DOH) shot down Tuesday rumors about a "flesh-eating" skin disease, following reports of two suspected cases in Pangasinan—one in Villasis town, another in Sta. Barbara.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona was categorical: "There is no reported case of 'flesh-eating' skin disease in the country yet. Absolutely no reason for the public to panic.”

In the first case, Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco took to Twitter to allay fears after consulting with local health officials familiar with the case of a young man in Villasis town whose family was given many different diagnoses. The man, called “Joseph” in a TV report, suffers from an acute episode of psoriasis, a chronic skin disease characterized by red patches covered with white scales, as a result of an abnormally rapid way the skin cells grow. In severe cases, it could be associated with or complicate other ailments like arthritis or gout, or immune disorders.

Kimi Cojuangco tweeted at 3 in the afternoon of Tuesday: “re the so called ‘plague’ in Pangasinan.The male patient in Villasis has a very bad case of Erithrodermic Psoriasis and proceeded to share the image of a patient with this ailment that she said she had googled from a medical website and whose manifestations look exactly the same as the Villasis man:"

Psoriasis is one of the least-understood diseases and one of the country’s foremost experts, Makati Medical Center’s Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell of the VMV line of hypoallergenics, has spent the past three decades explaining it to people. In an earlier interview with an editor, Verallo said people should understand these basic things about psoriasis: one, it is NOT contagious; that episodes are often triggered by changes in weather or climate, stress and too much of the wrong foods; that psoriasis patients need to be in clean surroundings where they won’t be at risk of infection; that psoriatic sufferers can lead normal lives especially if they have the support group of family, friends and a community that understands the disease.

Female case on multi-drug regime for leprosy

Meanwhile, in the case of the 21-year-old Ona female from the town of Sta. Barbara, Ona cited a field report that she is on a multi-drug therapy for leprosy at a regional health unit.

Citing the report of DOH director for Region 1 Dr. Myrna Cabotaje, he said the patient was initially treated in another private health facility. The woman has now completed the treatment but may still need debridement for her skin lesions.

The patient is now being assessed for her current drug reaction and for work-up for tuberculosis, DOH added.

Psoriasis case confirmed - Ona

Ona said the Provincial Health Office also checked on the Villasis case and  that clinical examination confirmed it as a case of severe psoriasis.

"There are a lot of diseases that may manifest through changes in the skin. It is good to consult our doctors or go to the nearest barangay health unit when we need medical advice and treatment. Let us avail ourselves of the free healthcare service in our health facilities," Ona advised the public.

Experts have earlier issued warnings against going to people untrained to deal with skin problems, because sometimes the misdiagnosis could lead to more problems. Some ill-trained “derma” experts could prescribe drugs that are so strong and yet not suited to the patient’s condition, and which end up causing complications in the liver or kidney. In an extreme case, one psoriasis patient examined by Makati Med’s Dr. Verallo had to undergo “detoxification” for several weeks before Verallo introduced the right drugs because the patient, it turned out, had been misdiagnosed and given very potent drugs used for cancer patients, causing hair loss and ugly changes in his fingernails.

As crucial as treating the patients, she had once stressed in a forum, is making the family and community of psoriasis sufferers understand what it is all about. Depression triggered by the physical manifestations of the ailment could worsen if the person senses rejection by those around him or her. With a report from L. Fernandez