WHO finds hospital breaches worsened MERS outbreak in UAE

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Lapses in hospital infection control measures exacerbated an outbreak of a deadly new viral disease which has infected more than 60 people and killed at least 10 in the UAE, health investigators said on Friday.

Reporting the findings of a five-day mission to the UAE, experts from the World Health Organisation said, however, that they found no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

"The recent upsurge of cases in Abu Dhabi appears to have been caused by a combination of factors, including a breach in infection prevention and control measures in health care settings, active surveillance and increase in community acquired cases," they said in a statement.

First reported in humans in 2012, MERS causes severe and often fatal respiratory illness, with symptoms similar to those seen during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. Its around 40 percent death rate and reports of clusters of human-to-human transmission have raised concerns it may blow up into a pandemic.

So far, it has infected more than 800 people around the world, killing at least 310 of them. The vast majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia, but there have also been sporadic cases and clusters across the Middle Eastand in Europe, Asia and the United States.

At the heart of the outbreak, Saudi Arabia has been criticised for its handling of MERS, which public health experts say could have been under control by now if officials and scientists there had collaborated more on studies into how the virus operates and where it is coming from.

In response, the Saudi health ministry says it has put in place new measures for better data gathering, reporting and transparency, including standardisation of testing and improved guidelines for labelling and storing samples.

Reporting on the UAE's handling of the problem, the WHO praised authorities there, saying they had been "following up diligently" on MERS cases, including conducting repeated tests to check when cases have been cleared of the virus.

"This data will make an important contribution to the risk assessment and to guide the health response internationally," said Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO delegation.

A six-strong team from the WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network were invited by the UAE to investigate MERS after an upsurge in cases there in April.

The team met experts from Health Authority Abu Dhabi, Dubai Health Authority and the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, and visited the hospital to which two-thirds of the country's cases had been be traced, it said, without giving its name or location.

"We are impressed by the amount of data and information generated during the investigation of MERS cases byUAE to help better understand MERS- CoV," Ben Embarek said.

"This knowledge is of utmost importance to the rest of the world to better discover the source of the virus and the routes of transmissions from animals to humans."

The Geneva-based U.N. health agency urged UAE health authorities to continue investigating MERS, including the source of infection, and to share new information as it is available.

"There is an ongoing need to share experiences and knowledge from all countries that have cases of MERS-CoV to better understand this emerging disease, including the role of animals in the spread of the MERS-CoV," it said.

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Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

Posted by: Edwin Karl

There should be a multi-pronged strategy that not only educates people about basic hygiene but also prompt detection of infectious diseases. I tend to agree with those who advocate annual blood test instead of every three years, we cannot afford to be indifferent anymore.

Posted by: WRH

They should start by mandating hand washing for all healthcare workers before and after seeing any patient and require all healthcare facilities to distribute hand sanitizers liberally throughout their facilities!!!!!

Posted by: Murshed

To detect any communicable disease, people should be tested more often, not only when they fall sick or once every three years.

Posted by: Fahd

I was am very glad that the Federal National Council FNC passed a draft law authorizing the Health Ministry to introduce tough quarantine regulations and the law also states that a person who knowingly exposes another to a communicable disease can face up to five years in prison, a fine of up to Dh100,000 or both for failing to comply with control measures.
There should be more methods to test people with communicable lethal diseases such as HIV/Aids, Hepatitis (A,E), anthrax, cholera, avian influenza, and tuberculosis (pulmonary and extra-pulmonary), among others; not only once a year when the visa gets renewed.

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