Trickle of new cases lifts South Korea MERS total to 172

South Korea's health ministry has reported six more MERS-CoV cases, as well as three more deaths, over the past 3 days in a hospital-linked outbreak that has now sickened 172 people but appears to be slowing.

Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) shared more details about Thailand's first imported MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) case, revealing that the Omani man had symptoms before he traveled to Thailand.

South Korea update

South Korea's six new MERS-CoV cases include three reported yesterday and three announced today, according to media reports citing health ministry sources.

No cases or deaths were announced on Jun 20, but the following day the ministry reported three additional infections and a death in a previously confirmed case, the Korea Times reported yesterday. Two of those cases involve healthcare workers: One is a radiology technician at Konkuk University Medical Center, and the other is a doctor at Samsung Medical Center, both in Seoul.

On the same day the health ministry announced a death from the disease involving a 63-year-old man who was exposed to the virus in late May when he visited his wife while she was receiving cancer treatment at Samsung, according to the Times.

Today health officials announced three additional cases, putting the overall outbreak total at 172, as well as two more MERS fatalities. Details from some of the cases suggest a longer incubation period for the disease, which is thought to be about 14 days, the Korea Herald reported.

One case involves a man who had stayed with a previously confirmed MERS-CoV patient at Konkuk University Medical Center on Jun 6, according to the report, which added that the diagnosis came more than 14 days after exposure.

Another is a woman who started having symptoms on Jun 9, about 10 days after exposure to the virus at Samsung Medical Center, according to the Herald. Her initial test was negative, but she was retested again on Jun 17 after she came down with a high fever.

The third patient was exposed while working at Dae-Chung Hospital in Daejeon, a facility that treats older patients who have chronic health conditions, according to the report.

The latest deaths are in two men ages 84 and 87, one of whom was exposed at Samsung and the other got sick after being at a hospital in Daejeon, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. Their MERS-CoV infections were detected on Jun 9 and Jun 12, respectively.

The number of contacts under monitoring continues to drop, another sign that the outbreak may be easing off. The number under monitoring in their homes or at hospitals is 3,833, reflecting a decrease of 202 compared with the 4,035 reported yesterday, according to health ministry data posted on the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Western Pacific regional Web site.

WHO report on Thailand's case

So far no additional MERS cases have been detected in Thailand, which reported its first case on Jun 18 in a 75-year-old man from Oman who traveled to the country to be treated for a heart condition.

The WHO said in a Jun 20 statement that the man had underlying health conditions and started having symptoms on Jun 10. He was admitted to a hospital in Oman, but when his symptoms didn't improve he decided to go to Thailand for treatment.

According to Omani health officials, the man had been hospitalized earlier—from Jun 4 to 7—for his cardiac problems, the Times of Oman reported yesterday. It's not clear if the media report refers to the same hospitalization covered in the WHO statement.

The man flew with three family members, arriving in Bangkok on Jun 15. Neither the patient nor his family remembers reported fever upon their arrival on Thailand. The man was hospitalized on Jun 15 and tested positive for MERS-CoV on Jun 18, which prompted the transfer of the man and his family members to another healthcare facility, where they were placed in isolation.

The man is listed in stable condition, according to the WHO. It added that public health officials in Thailand are strengthening their infection prevention and control procedures at the hospital that first treated the patient, tracing contacts, and activating their emergency operations center.

Neither the WHO statement nor the media report shed any light on how the man was exposed to the virus. He is the seventh Omani to be infected with MERS-CoV.

Oman's health ministry said yesterday there is no MERS-CoV outbreak occurring in the country, Gulf News reported. However, it cautioned people about contact with animals, especially camels, and advised people with respiratory infections to follow proper hygiene steps.

The WHO said in its update that it has been notified of 1,334 lab-confirmed MERS-CoV cases, 471 of them fatal. The vast majority of them have been reported in Saudi Arabia. Travel-linked infections have been detected in 17 countries outside the Arabian Peninsula.

See also:

Jun 21 Korea Times story

Jun 22 Korea Herald story

Jun 22 AFP story

Jun 22 WHO regional office MERS-CoV update

Jun 20 WHO update on Thailand's case

Jun 21 Times of Oman story

Jun 21 Gulf News story

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