Date: Sat 8 Sep 2018
Source: Yonhap News (4th LD - update) [edited]
A patient in Seoul was diagnosed on Saturday [8 Sep 2018] with the 1st case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea since 2015. The 61-year-old man, whose personal information was withheld for privacy reasons, was diagnosed with the disease at about 4 p.m. Saturday [8 Sep 2018], the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. It is the 1st case of MERS diagnosed in South Korea since 2015, when an outbreak killed 38 people and triggered widespread panic.
According to the KCDC, the man took a business trip to Kuwait from [Thu 16 Aug 2018 to Thu 6 Sep 2018] and returned home via the United Arab Emirates on Friday [7 Sep 2018]. He visited a local hospital during his stay in Kuwait for diarrhea but showed the same symptom again on his way back home. He was rushed to the emergency room of Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul upon his arrival at Incheon International Airport.
The Samsung hospital checked the patient in an isolated section of the emergency room and reported him to the health authorities as a suspected case of MERS for showing symptoms of fever, phlegm, and pneumonia. He was then moved to Seoul National University (SNU) Hospital in central Seoul and tested positive for the disease.
"The man currently is not in critical condition and does not have such symptoms as shortness of breath and a decrease in blood pressure, but we have to watch him closely, because his conditions may deteriorate in the next 1-2 weeks judging from our experiences from the previous outbreak," Kim Nam-jung, a doctor treating the patient at the SNU Hospital, said.
MERS is a viral respiratory disease with a fatality rate of 20-46 percent. It is caused by a novel coronavirus carried by camels and can be spread when someone is in close contact with a patient for a sustained period.
A total of 20 people, including flight attendants and medical staff, are under isolation at home for coming in close contact with the patient, but the number could rise in the future, the KCDC said.
The authorities believe there is a high chance that the patient was infected with the disease in Kuwait, because he stayed in Dubai for only a short time for a transfer. The government said it will try to find out if any Koreans were infected with the disease after being in close contact with him in Kuwait.
"We don't see that the patient was exposed much to regional society since he was isolated upon his arrival at the Samsung hospital," Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the KCDC, said during a press briefing at the Central Government Complex in Seoul. "We'll do our best to investigate and manage people who contacted him in order to prevent any secondary infections."
As part of efforts to effectively control the new outbreak, the government raised the status of the KCDC to that of a vice-ministerial level organization. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon instructed the Ministry of Health and Welfare to do all it can do to prevent the possible spread of the viral respiratory disease.
"We should prevent the possible spread of MERS by quickly and thoroughly conducting an epidemiological investigation," Lee told the health minister after being briefed on the new outbreak. Lee will preside over an emergency meeting of relevant ministers to discuss measures to prevent the disease's spread on Sunday [9 Sep 2018] afternoon, according to his office.
[As a reminder, during the period of late May through early July 2015, there was a major outbreak of MERS-CoV in South Korea, with a total of 185 cases reported from South Korea and one additional case who travelled from South Korea to China, where he was diagnosed and treated. The index case was a business man who had travelled to the Middle East (multiple countries including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia). The index case did not give a history of travel to the Middle East when evaluated in the medical facilities he sought assistance. Unfortunately, he was a "superspreader," and a number of individuals he infected were also superspreaders. The situation of healthcare management and health facility-seeking behavior on the part of the population led to multiple hospitals involved in this outbreak and a total of 186 cases associated with this event. (I suggest a journey through the "see also" list below to see that outbreak as it unfolded.) Many lessons were learned from that outbreak that are reflected in the management of this current case as reported by the news media reports included above. A travel history of this current case was identified at the 1st encounter of this patient by the health sector, and the patient was evaluated in a secluded area of the emergency room (which was not the realities during the 2015 outbreak, as many patients roamed freely in emergency rooms when 1st seen by the health sector).
This current case gives a history of travel and work in Kuwait, with a short stopover in Dubai en route home. He also gives a history of being seen at a health facility in Kuwait with a diarrheal illness (diarrhea can be part of the presenting symptoms with a MERS-CoV infection), so it is possible he was already infected with the MERS-CoV leading to his medical visit in Kuwait. It is also possible that the diarrheal incident was not due to a MERS-CoV infection, and he may have been seen in a health facility where there was another patient with active MERS-CoV infection that had not been diagnosed. I suspect that over the next few days more information on this will become available and will be reflected in either direct Ministry of Health (MOH) press releases and/or a report from the MOH submitted to the WHO Emergencies, Preparedness and Response Disease Outbreak News.