LONDON: 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 United Arab Emirates, health investigators said yesterday.
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 East and 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.