x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Keep calm, experts say after Emirati dies from coronavirus infection

The hunt is now on to find the source of the novel coronavirus which has claimed 11 lives so far - the latest victim being a 73-year-old Emirati man.

The coronavirus is from the same family as the Sars virus. Reuters / Health Protection Agency
The coronavirus is from the same family as the Sars virus. Reuters / Health Protection Agency

ABU DHABI // Health experts urged calm yesterday after an Emirati man died in a hospital in Germany after contracting a Sars-like virus.

The man, who was 73, had been transferred by air ambulance to Munich from a hospital in Abu Dhabi on March 19.

German doctors diagnosed a novel coronavirus (NCoV) infection and the man was pronounced dead on Tuesday. It is not known where he contracted the virus, although he had recently visited Saudi Arabia, where most cases have originated. He is the 11th person to die out of 17 cases reported to the World Health Organisation.

"The difficulty is finding the reservoir of this virus - where it comes from," said Dr Mansour Al Zarouni, a consultant molecular microbiologist in Dubai.

"The suggestion is only that it comes from the Arabian Peninsula but there is nothing solid. We don't know where this virus lives. You can prevent it easier if you know the source."

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said it was important to find the source of the virus.

"That way you can understand the spread of it and take measures to prevent any further cases," he said. "It's obviously cause for concern - any new virus that kills this many people is something we don't wish to have. But, on the other hand, the number of cases is still small and everyone is keeping a very close eye on it to ensure it doesn't develop into a major public health problem."

Prof Pennington, who has chaired inquiries into E. coli outbreaks in Scotland and South Wales, said scientists were desperate to find out more about this virus: "There is an international network of people dedicated to working out what the virus is and giving advice as well."

Dubai Health Authority has been monitoring the situation for some time, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

"In this particular case, the patient was 73 years old and the immunity in this age group is lower. Dubai Health Authority is in contact with international health organisations and is following the necessary protocol," she said.

The Emirati who died was receiving cancer treatment in Germany, the state news agency Wam said. Health authorities in the UAE say there are no suspected cases of the virus in this country.

The World Health Organisation has been monitoring the spread of the novel coronavirus since it was first detected in humans last year.

It said Sars, a virus that claimed the lives of 755 people in 2003, and nCoV are distantly related and "both capable of causing severe disease".

Doctor Zarouni said the incident underlined the need for greater preparedness for all virus outbreaks.

"All the other GCC countries have their own virology centres to conduct testing but the UAE does not - it has one in Sharjah but it is not up and running," he said.

He called for centres to be set up where samples could be sent for testing, not just for this virus but for others too. "The number one priority is for the Government to establish centres to handle this so that we do not panic or create chaos - the problem is that, today, when you hear clinicians or GPs talking about a virus like this, any patient going to casualty with a fever will think they have the virus, when that is not the case. People should remain calm."

Saudi Arabia is well prepared for this type of outbreak, he said.

"Saudi has experiences handling the Haj, where they receive a great many people to the country and they have more experience in dealing with Sars and influenza."

In 2009, Arab health ministers agreed to discourage elderly and other high-risk groups from making the Haj pilgrimage amid the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. Pilgrims from the UAE were required to show proof of vaccination.