Camel-owner in Abu Dhabi contracts Mers virus

The Emirati, 66, is in intensive care after complaining of respiratory problems and was found to have contracted the virus, it was confirmed on Thursday.

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ABU DHABI // A camel owner in the emirate has become the latest person to be infected with the Mers coronavirus.

The Emirati, 66, is in intensive care after complaining of respiratory problems and was found to have contracted the virus, it was confirmed on Thursday.

It strengthens suspicions that camels may play a role in the spread of the coronavirus.

The man, who had underlying medical conditions, began to experience symptoms on January 20 and was admitted to hospital four days later with pneumonia and renal failure.

He owns camels in the UAE and had recently travelled to Oman where he was in contact with other beasts, the World Health Organisation says.

Research by Dr Ulrich Wernery, a director of the central veterinary research laboratory in Dubai, suggests camels could be responsible for passing Mers to humans.

Dr Wernery said the latest case added to evidence to support that.

“We do not know what the real host of the virus is – it could be bats, it could be camels, it could even be something else,” he said. “Time will tell, but the camel is definitely the intermediate host.”

But he said the latest Mers case should not cause great concern.

“There are actually very few cases when you compare it to Sars, for example,” Dr Wernery said. “People should not panic.”

Globally there have been 182 confirmed cases of the virus, of which 79 have died, since September 2012.

Dr Wernery said it would be a while before researchers found the source of the disease.

A study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal in December found what it called definitive proof that the Mers coronavirus also infects camels.

But it could not confirm whether the virus passes from camels to humans or the other way around.

Scientists around the world have been searching for the animal source of the Mers coronavirus since the first human cases were confirmed.

The WHO said it had been told by UAE health authorities of the most recent laboratory-confirmed case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome infection.

It said the patient was confirmed to have Mers on January 30.

Cases of Mers, which can cause coughing, fever, pneumonia and kidney failure, have been confirmed in the Middle East, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Tunisia.

The UAE is the second-most prevalent country for Mers after Saudi Arabia, the International SOS, a company of experts in global health issues, said last month.

The first case of Mers linked to the nation was an Abu Dhabi man, 73, who was treated at Mafraq Hospital in the capital before he was moved to Germany.

He was an Emirati who had suffered cancer, and he died in a Munich hospital on March 26 last year, 11 days after developing flu-like symptoms.

The WHO is urging all of its member nations to remain vigilant and report any new cases to it as soon as possible.

People have been warned to avoid close contact with animals when visiting farms where the virus is known to be circulating, and to wash hands before and after touching animals.

The organisation also highlighted the need to strengthen infection prevention and control measures in healthcare centres.

“Healthcare facilities that provide care for patients suspected or confirmed with Mers should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission of the virus,” the WHO said.

“Education and training for infection prevention and control should be provided to all healthcare workers and regularly refreshed.”