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Deaths and patient numbers increase in battle against disease

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June 08,2015
The total number of patients in the country infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has climbed to 64 and a fifth person has died, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced Sunday, as 14 more people tested positive for the disease over the weekend.

Patient No. 64, a 75-year-old man, died Friday and tested positive for MERS the following day, marking it the third death in which the disease was detected post-mortem. As of Sunday, the virus’ fatality rate in the country was 7.8 percent.

The increase also puts Korea on the heels of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in terms of overall MERS cases. The UAE currently has the second-highest number of MERS patients at 76, behind Saudi Arabia with 1,019.

Most of the new patients came into contact with the disease while being treated at Samsung Medical Center in southeastern Seoul, according to the ministry.

Korea’s first MERS patient, who caught the virus last month while on a 16-day business trip to the Middle East, had visited four domestic hospitals by the time he began exhibiting symptoms and was correctly diagnosed.

Samsung Medical Center, where it was eventually confirmed that he had MERS, was the fourth, though he is not thought to have transmitted the virus to anyone there.

So far, 17 of the country’s total MERS patients were found to have been infected in Samsung Medical Center’s emergency room. Two are medical staff. Patients No. 55 to 64 contracted the virus while staying in the emergency room with Patient No. 14, who was treated at the hospital from May 27 to 29.

On Friday, the government disclosed the name of the hospital at which the first MERS patient transmitted the disease to most other sufferers. In all, 36 of Korea’s total patients were found to have been infected at Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital, either by Patient No. 1 or a second-generation patient.

That fact further upped speculation that more people who visited Samsung Medical Center could be infected.

“We are seeing many patients from [Samsung Medical Center] because the spread within the facility has progressed,” a Health Ministry official said Sunday. “All the new patients have contracted the disease within medical facilities and transmission into local communities is unlikely.”

Also on Sunday, the military said that the MERS spread within its ranks appeared to be on a downswing, with some of those in quarantine testing negative for the disease.

A chief master sergeant in the Air Force who works at the Osan Air Base is the only MERS patient in Korea’s armed forces to have tested positive so far. He contracted the disease while being treated for an injury on his Achilles tendon at Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s.

The Ministry of National Defense previously restricted more than 160 people after the chief master sergeant tested positive. As of Sunday, that number dwindled to near 100.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]


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