Complacency in hospitals increases threat of Mers outbreak in UAE

Of 956 confirmed cases, 97.5 per cent have occurred in the Middle East, with 63.2 per cent of those picking up the infection in healthcare centres.

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DUBAI // Hospitals must be more vigilant in treating patients infected with the Mers coronavirus to avoid a further outbreak, a health professional says.
Dr Stefan Weber, a consultant microbiologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, said there had been a case where four healthcare workers were infected after treating a patient without wearing masks.
Although still rare, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has caused 351 deaths in the region.
Of 956 confirmed cases, 97.5 per cent have occurred in the Middle East, with 63.2 per cent of those picking up the infection in healthcare centres, Dr Weber said.
He said health professionals needed a wake-up call to the dangers of treating Mers.
"Like Ebola, this is a disease that is predominantly dangerous for us in the healthcare profession," he said. "There is a high infection rate and a high rate of transmission.
"We should be taking higher precautions and ensure you are protecting your staff. We are now seeing more patients infected than previously thought.
"Most have come from Saudi Arabia but the UAE is second on the list. In the UAE there have been about 50 cases since the virus was discovered."
It was first found in Saudi Arabia in 2013 but experts suspected there was an outbreak in Jordan a year earlier - before the coronavirus was identified - when 13 healthcare workers became ill.
The first recorded UAE fatality was an 82-year-old man in July 2013, who had underlying health conditions. It was from him that the four medics were infected.
A male worker, 28, and a woman, 30, showed no serious symptoms but the two other women, aged 30 and 40, were infected and had mild respiratory problems.
Each of them were exposed for between 30 and 60 minutes.
In Dubai, a 68-year-old man survived Mers but a healthcare worker treating him, who also had underlying chronic health problems, was infected and died at the age of 38.
The virus is thought to originate in bats but evidence supports the theory that it is transmitted to humans from dromedary camels.
In the latest UAE outbreak, in April and May of last year, 40 new cases were recorded.
Mers has been compared to bird flu, or Sars, with similar respiratory-related symptoms.
Although the transmission rate in bird flu is higher than in Mers, figures show Mers has a higher rate of mortality. Older people, males, those with chronic conditions and pregnant woman are most at risk.
"Not only are these people at risk but they are the ones who are in hospital with severe pneumonia," Dr Weber said. "Mers is not an epidemic at this point but this can change. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. It is still a threat to the Middle East."
nwebster@thenational.ae