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Mers patients moved to isolation ward

Ministry of Interior says its medical workers were diagnosed during routine check up

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Five paramedics who worked for the Ministry of Interior (MoI) are in an isolation ward under strict quarantine following the death of a sixth co-worker, the ministry said.

The ministry confirmed on Friday that six of its medical workers contracted the Middle East Respiratory Coronavirus (Mers-CoV) and that the ministry was moving quickly to keep the patients contained for observation and treatment.

The patients are all from the Philippines, and are aged below 40 years. They work with the MoI in Al Ain, and were diagnosed after a routine medical check up.

It is still not known how the paramedics got infected, but it is likely that they were dealing with elderly patients, a source at the UAE Ministry of Health’s (MoH) Infection Control Committee told Gulf News. The majority of Mers infections in the UAE have occurred among elderly, chronically-ill people.

The announcement was made in order to ensure transparency and keep residents informed, the MoI announced on its Twitter page. It added that people who were recently in contact with the paramedics have also been reached to ensure that they are healthy.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), as well as the Philippines Embassy, has been informed about the latest cases, the MoH source said.

As of the latest update released by the WHO on Thursday, 211 people worldwide have been infected by Mers-CoV since September 2012, and 88 patients have succumbed to the disease. This count does not, however, include the Filipino paramedics.

Health experts have said that the transmission of the virus, which has a 40 to 50 per cent mortality rate, is still limited. But the WHO urges healthcare workers to take strict precautions.

“Health-care workers should be educated, trained and refreshed with skills on infection prevention and control. It is not always possible to identify patients with Mers-CoV easily because some have mild or unusual symptoms.

“For this reason, it is important that workers apply standards [and] precautions consistently with all patients — regardless of their diagnosis — in all work practices all the time,” the WHO’s disease outbreak report states.

The organisation recommends that medical professionals guard against droplets when caring for all patients displaying symptoms of acute respiratory infection, and wear contact and eye protection when treating a probable or confirmed case of Mers-CoV infection.

“Patients should be managed as potentially infected when the clinical and epidemiological clues strongly suggest MERS-CoV, even if an initial test is negative,” the WHO report adds.

In July last year, four medical professionals from two hospitals in Abu Dhabi were infected by Mers after they took care of another patient with the disease. They were all below 40, and two of them did not develop symptoms of the illness. The other two patients had mild respiratory symptoms and were soon declared to be in stable condition.

The Mers death and quarantine in the UAE comes three days after the emergency unit at King Fahad Hospital in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah was shuttered as a precautionary measure amid reports that several people fell ill with Mers.

Earlier this week, Saudi health authorities reported the deaths of two men and four new cases of Mers, bringing the death toll from the respiratory disease in the worst-hit country to 66.

At least 11 medical staff have been reported to have contracted the virus, a spokesperson at the King Fahad hospital said.