South Korea MERS totals grow by 1 infection, 1 death

In a further sign of slowing in South Korea's MERS-CoV outbreak, the country reported just one new case and one additional death over the past few days, edging the total to 182 infections, 32 of them fatal.

The World Health Organization has said that the recent drop in infections linked to a single healthcare-related transmission chain signals that South Korea's control measures are having an impact. But it warned that more cases were likely to be detected, perhaps even some in the community, given the large number of contacts still under monitoring.

Another ill health worker

South Korea has gone 2 days without reporting a newly confirmed MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) case. The health ministry said the most recent case, announced on Jun 27, was in a nurse who was exposed to the virus while treating a patient, according the Korea Times.

According to a health ministry update today, 36 healthcare workers have been sickened in the outbreak.

Yesterday health officials reported that a 55-year-old man who contracted the virus at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul died from his infection, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. His illness was confirmed on Jun 9.

Samsung was the second hospital to be hit by the virus, which spread in the facility quickly when a man who was unknowingly infected at the first hospital spent nearly 3 days in the emergency department, where he exposed other patients, visitors, and staff.

Currently, 2,682 possible contacts are in home or hospital monitoring, 120 more than the day before, the health ministry said.

Index patient recovers

In a related development, the index patient—a 68-year-old man who got sick after traveling to four Middle Eastern countries—has recovered from MERS-CoV and was discharged from National Medical Center, the Korea Times reported today.

He still has pneumonia but has cleared the virus, based on several rounds of testing, the story said. He is now being treated at a general hospital.

The man had visited a handful of clinics and hospitals before his MERS-CoV infection was confirmed on May 20, which triggered a large nosocomial outbreak—the largest outside of the Middle East—that affected several hospitals.

Policy changes

In other outbreak developments, government officials announced some new policy changes to help stem future disease outbreaks.

Kwon Deok-cheol, a senior health ministry official, said the government will expand national health insurance coverage for people who have infectious diseases, along with those who need to be isolated in negative-pressure rooms in hospitals, the Korea Herald reported today.

He said national health insurance would also cover the installation of more negative-pressure rooms and maintain the ones that are already in operation. He added that the MERS outbreak showed that South Korea has a severe shortage of negative-pressure rooms and that some of the existing ones haven't been properly maintained.

As another measure, hospitals will be required to separate their emergency departments and areas for patients who need to be isolated from other hospital wards, according to Kwon. The health ministry will also roll out regular incentive-based infection control evaluations for hospitals.

He said the new measures will be finalized and confirmed in July, according to the report.

Thai patient declared virus-free

An Omani man who was hospitalized with a MERS-CoV infection in Thailand, becoming its first imported case, has been declared free of the virus but will remain in quarantine for the time being, Reuters reported today, citing the country's health ministry.

The 75-year-old man had symptoms before he departed Oman, accompanied by three family members, but his infection wasn't detected until he arrived in Thailand for treatment of a cardiac condition.

Surachet Satitramai, acting secretary of the health ministry, said the man's latest test results were negative for MERS-CoV, but he will remain hospitalized to assess if his other health conditions will have any effect on his recovery.

The man's relatives remain free of the virus, and the health ministry is still monitoring 36 people who may have had contact with the Omani man, according to the Reuters report.

See also:

Jun 27 Korea Times story

Jun 29 AFP story

Jun 29 South Korean health ministry statistics

Jun 29 Korea Herald story

Jun 29 Reuters story

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