Infection control experts said that the threat of novel coronavirus (NcoV) needs to be taken seriously as there is limited information on its transmission and severity.
The deadly Sars-like respiratory infection has been linked to the UAE, with a confirmed case involving a traveller returning to the emirates earlier this month .
Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Hygiene Council (GHC) and Arab Hygiene Council (AHC) Conference on Thursday, experts said that the cause of the NcoV is still under study.
Research is still ongoing to determine, among others, how are people getting infected and how widespread it is.
The experts urged UAE residents to understand the viral infection and take precautions in the form of increased levels of hygiene.
Supported by Dettol’s ‘Mission for Health’, an initiative that actively helps improve health and hygiene standards across the Middle East, conference speakers stressed the guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The body released a statement relating to the NcoV situation on May 12, stating that the greatest global concern is on the potential for this new virus to spread.
Furthermore, the WHO said that urgent action is needed including increasing levels of awareness among people, levels of surveillance of the new infection and initiating investigations.
Visiting professor John Oxford, Chairman of the Global Hygiene Council and Professor of Virology at the University of London, UK, said: “Awareness is vital in the health care sector and in homes and public places because the virus is being transmitted in families.”
He said that infection control precautions from the SARS outbreak in 2003 are being applied.
“We know that respiratory infections can be prevented and controlled through hand hygiene and cough etiquette.”
Prof Oxford advised standard infection control precautions in the form of covering one’s nose and mouth with single-use tissues when sneezing and coughing, using the inner elbow rather than the hand if tissue isn’t available, and disposing the tissue immediately after use.
He explained that the NcoV incubation period is about seven days.
“A person will show the symptoms after a week, making it easier to stop the infection by testing everyone who has come in contact with the infected person.
“It [the long incubation period] is an optimistic sign indicating that this outbreak can be controlled by adopting hygiene measures. It is transmitted through close contact,” he said.
Prof Oxford added that research is ongoing to learn about the source. “Indications point towards the bat. However, it is likely to be sheep, goat or camel — animals around here.”
Dr Mohammad Halwani, a member of the Arab Hygiene Council and Infection Control surveyor at the Health Service Council in Saudi Arabia, told Gulf News that people can protect themselves by taking a few precautions.
“If you see someone coughing or sneezing, avoid close contact. Be cautious especially in places of worship, busy supermarkets and other populated public areas. It is equally important to wash your hands or use a hand sanitiser after touching or handling public goods and facilities like supermarket trolleys, door handles, etc,” said Dr Halwani, also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Al Baha University, Saudi Arabia.
Stressing on the need for more awareness on the viral infection, he said that people need to know how the virus is transmitted.
“If any one has flu-like symptoms, he or she should consult a doctor for further tests. In general, keep away from someone with a heavy cough, Close contact with infected people can lead to infection.”