How UAE hospitals handle suspected coronavirus cases

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Doctors have urged residents not to panic about the potential spread of coronavirus in the UAE, saying the country has “well-established procedures in place” to deal with suspected cases.

The UAE confirmed its first case of the Wuhan coronavirus on Wednesday as the number of infections continued to climb in China, where the outbreak began a little over a month ago.

According to official figures, the number of cases in China jumped to 5,974 on Wednesday, up from 4,515 on Tuesday. It has now also spread to at least 17 countries.

Experts have warned China could lose the battle to control the spread of the virus due to its long incubation period. The incubation period is “generally” between three and seven days, but it can be up to two weeks. People are believed to be able to spread the infection during this time.

Dr Sreehari Pillai, medical administrator and specialist internal medicine at NMC Speciality Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said the eventual spread to the UAE was inevitable but there was no need to worry.

There is absolutely no need to panic

Dr Sreehari Pillai, NMC Speciality Hospital

“There is absolutely no need to panic because our system was already so geared up with all the news,” he said.

“We were doing a lot of internal training over the past week for all the frontline medical staff. The main question they asked was’ do we have the disease here?’ The reply was ‘it is not whether we have it now – it is a matter of when',” he said.

He said the government circulated guidelines for hospitals to follow on January 20 that said patients should be assessed for the virus if they meet certain criteria.

They include coughing or having difficulty breathing – with or without a fever. They also include a history of travel to China in the past 14 days, or close contact with a person who is unwell and under investigation for the virus.

If a patient who is exhibiting symptoms has either of those risk factors, there are a series of steps hospitals must follow, said Dr Pillai.

Roy Cooper/ The National

“All healthcare institutions were required to do internal training to assist their preparedness and make sure we had all the required equipment, personal protection equipment and the isolation rooms were ready. So everything was in place already,” he said.

In addition to notifying the Ministry of Health immediately, hospitals are required to isolate anyone suspected of suffering with the virus in a negative pressure room, where the air cannot escape, as soon as they are identified as being at risk.

“The patient is admitted into this room and there is a place for staff to change into protective clothing and only these staff are allowed to attend to the patient,” said Dr Pillai.

A swab is then taken of their nose and throat which is transported in a vial to the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Microbiology Laboratory, which is the only lab tasked with testing the samples in the UAE.

The sample is assigned an electronic tracking number which can be traced. The result of the swabs are then uploaded to a system which the hospital can access.

“We haven’t received any suspected cases at NCM. We are vigilant, but this is flu season,” said Dr Pillai.

“Only patients who fit into specific criteria will be swabbed. They need to have travelled to China and have the symptoms.”

On Wednesday, the UAE’s Ministry of Health urged residents not to panic.

“The general public health situation is not cause for concern,” a statement posted to Twitter read.

The ministry reiterated that the affected family members were “stable and under medical observation”.

Updated: January 29, 2020 12:24 PM

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