DUBAI (Reuters) - One expatriate health worker has died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and five others have been infected with the disease in the United Arab Emirates, state news agency WAM reported on Friday.
The cases follow Saudi Arabian reports this week that two deaths and nine other cases of infection had been reported there, including among hospital staff.
WAM said the six were all first aid service personnel from the Philippines working with the UAE Interior Ministry in the city of al-Ain.
The ministry said in a statement that the cases were discovered during periodic medical examinations.
“All necessary health and preventive measures have been taken, putting them in health isolation, and the ministry has been in contact with all the people who had been treated (by the health workers) recently to check on them as a precautionary measure,” WAM quoted a ministry statement as saying.
Gulf Arab states rely heavily on expatriates who work in almost every sector in the oil-rich countries.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia reported that two people had died in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after contracting the disease. State news agency SPA quoted the Jeddah health authority as saying that six others have recovered while three more are undergoing treatment.
At one point the emergency department of King Fahd hospital in Jeddah was closed for disinfection after one health worker there tested positive for the virus and subsequent tests on other staff members showed further infections.
That led to fears of an epidemic, but Saudi Health Minister Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Rabeeah said the number of cases in Jeddah was in line with cases that had appeared in other parts of the kingdom.
“The rate of incidence is still low, and doesn’t represent an epidemic,” Rabeeah said in a statement on the ministry’s website on Thursday, citing the criteria of the World Health Organisation and other bodies.
The MERS virus emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same family as the SARS virus. It can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.
Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is fairly small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert.
Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Tunisia as well as in several countries in Europe, and scientists are increasingly focused on a link between human infections and camels as a possible “animal reservoir” of the virus.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Hugh Lawson