Dubai healthcare worker contracts MERS

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(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

A healthcare worker who treated the first person to be diagnosed with MERS coronovirus in Dubai has also contracted the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed.

The 33-year old male healthcare worker was in contact with the first MERS patient to die in Dubai, a 68-year old Emirati man who also suffered diabetes and chronic kidney failure and who died on December 22.

According to the WHO, the healthcare worker, whose nationality has not been released, began showing symptoms on December 27. He also has been diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs, acute renal failure and thrombocytopenia, as well as an underlying history of bronchial asthma and chronic kidney disease.

He is in a critical but stable condition.

With several cases of the contagious disease also reported in Abu Dhabi, the UAE is now the second most prevalent country for MERS after Saudi Arabia, where experts believe it originated in 2012.

There have been 177 laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease around the world, mostly in the Gulf, with 74 of them fatal, according to WHO records from September 2012.

MERS is from the same family as the SARS virus and can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.

Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert.

Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, Oman and Tunisia as well as in several countries in Europe, and scientists are increasingly focused on a link between the human infections and camels as a possible "animal reservoir" of the virus.

Dutch and Qatari scientists published research earlier this month that proved for the first time that MERS can also infect camels - strengthening suspicions that these animals, often used in the region for meat, milk, transport and racing, may be a source of the human outbreak.

The WHO says people at high risk of severe disease due to MERS should "avoid close contact with animals when visiting farms or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially circulating".

For the general public it advises normal hygiene steps such as hand washing before and after touching animals, avoiding contact with sick animals and good food hygiene practices.

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