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
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
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
At the heart of the outbreak, Saudi Arabia has been criticized 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. [ID:nL6N0OM2VH].
In response, the Saudi health ministry says it has put in place new
measures for better data gathering, reporting and transparency,
including standardization of testing and improved guidelines for
labeling 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.
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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 by UAE 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.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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