MERS pace slows in Korea; more under Thai monitoring

South Korea's health ministry reported one new MERS-CoV case today, the third consecutive day cases declined, renewing hopes that the outbreak is winding down.

The country also noted one new death from the disease.

In Thailand, which announced its first case yesterday in a traveler from Oman, no new cases were reported, but health officials expanded the number of people for monitoring.

South Korea cases at 166

The latest case edges South Korea's MERS-CoV  (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) total to 166 cases. The latest patient is a 62-year-old man who got sick after caring for a family member infected with the virus at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today.

About half (82) of outbreak infections have occurred at Samsung Medical Center, the Korea Herald reported today. The facility became the epicenter of the event after a patient from the first affected hospital sought follow-up treatment in its emergency department (ED), where he spent almost 3 days before he was admitted.

The latest fatality involves a 75-year-old patient who contracted MERS-CoV from the patient who initially brought the virus to Samsung Medical Center's ED, the Korea Times reported today. The death raises the total to 24.

The number of contacts under monitoring declined today, after rising for several days. According to health ministry information posted on the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific regional Web site, 5,930 contacts are still being monitored in their homes or in hospitals, 799 fewer than yesterday.

So far, all but two of the 166 infections have direct links to hospitals—the index patient who got sick after traveling to four Middle Eastern countries and a policeman from Pyeongtaek, the town where the first hospital outbreak was detected, the Herald reported, citing health ministry sources. The source of the policeman's infection is still under investigation.

WHO profiles outbreak pattern

In an epidemiologic update today, the WHO said the number of new cases reported each day in South Korea appears to be dropping, which suggests that the control measures Korean officials have implemented are reducing the rate of new infections.

Today's WHO report included a table of epidemiologic details for all 166 cases reported so far, an unusually complete listing compared with reports for other infectious disease outbreaks.

The agency noted that that the median age of the patients is 68.5 years, with a range of 16 to 87 years. Sixty percent of case-patients are men, and 21 (7.9%) of the patients are healthcare workers.

Except for the index case, all cases so far are liked to a single transmission chain entrenched in healthcare facilities.

Apology for slow response

In other developments, South Korea's prime minister today apologized for the government's initial late response to the outbreak. Quoted in a Yonhap News Agency story, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said, "I feel sorry as a newly appointed prime minister for the insufficiency in the government's initial response, which is directly related to the public safety."

He added that the early response was delayed by a lack of information and knowledge about MERS-CoV.

WHO officials have praised many of South Korea's response steps and said the country had the capacity to handle the outbreak and is prepared in the event that it escalates.

Thailand testing and monitoring update

Hospital officials in Thailand today shared more details about the Omani man announced as the country's first imported case-patient yesterday. The 75-year-old man, accompanied by family members, arrived in the country on Jun 15 so he could be treated for a heart condition, the health ministry said yesterday.

The man arrived at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok as a walk-in patient on the evening of Jun 15 with weakness, a cough, and shortness of breath, the Bangkok Post reported after a media briefing with hospital authorities. Staff isolated him from other patients, placed a mask on him, and put the man in a negative-pressure room, because they suspected MERS-CoV.

The man didn't have a fever on his first day in the hospital, but he did over the next 2 days, according to the report. Officials said the country's public health ministry coordinated his transfer yesterday to Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute.

Hospital officials said 58 staff members have been quarantined for 14 days.

The health ministry said today that 85 people are under monitoring, AFP reported. The total reflects an increase of 26 from the 59 reported yesterday.

Thai health officials have tested the man's three family members for MERS-CoV, and results were negative for two and inconclusive for one, according to AFP.

Information noted in a report today from Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) suggests the man and his family members arrived in Bangkok on an OmanAir flight. It said 31 passengers who were seated within two rows of the patient are still in Thailand and are under quarantine.

See also:

Jun 19 AFP story

Jun 19 Korea Herald story

Jun 19 Korea Times story

WHO regional office MERS-CoV update

Jun 19 WHO update

Jun 19 Yonhap News story

Jun 19 Bangkok Post report

Jun 19 CHP statement

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