Two more cases of MERS are suspected

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Two more cases of MERS are suspected

A respiratory disease originating in the Middle East is spreading in Korea. Four patients have already tested positive and two more are showing symptoms.

Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday that it is conducting checkups on two people after they developed fevers. They are among 61 people who are isolating themselves at home after having contact with the patient who brought the disease into Korea from the Middle East. The CDC said they are a doctor and a nurse who treated the first patient.

The first patient, a 68-year-old man who stayed in the Middle East for about three weeks, returned to Korea on May 4 and is known to have made contact with more than 60 people, including medical staff, until he was finally confirmed to have been infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) on May 20. He reportedly started showing symptoms on May 11.

“We are currently taking the two suspected infected people to hospitals designated by the government to conduct examinations,” said a CDC official on Tuesday. “Given that MERS is infectious among people in close contact in a restricted place, we can’t rule out further patients.”

The results of their examinations were not disclosed as of press time Tuesday.

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is most prevalent in the Middle East. The disease has a latent period of up to two weeks and presents flu-like symptoms.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, a total of 1,142 people had been diagnosed with the disease as of May 16, and so far it has resulted in 465 deaths, which is a 40.7 percent fatality rate.

Korea’s second confirmed patient was the wife of Patient No. 1. The third shared a hospital room with Patient No. 1 before he was diagnosed with MERS. The fourth patient is the daughter of Patient No. 3, who also stayed in that hospital room tending to her 76-year-old father. She is in her 40s.

As the disease is showing signs of further spreading, the CDC has heightened its precautionary measures.

The CDC has been criticized for being too lax in recent days.

In the case of the fourth patient, when her father was confirmed to have contracted the virus, she asked to be moved to a government-designated hospital in case she had contracted the disease and could spread it to others. But her request was denied.

She stayed in her own home and the CDC checked on her condition via phone calls two to three times a day. She began to show symptoms on Monday and was isolated at a hospital after her body temperature hit 38.2 degrees Celsius (100.76 degrees Fahrenheit).

The CDC previously explained that they refused her request because she had contact with her father when he wasn’t contagious. But on Tuesday it said she is believed to have contracted the disease directly from Patient No. 1.

None of the four infected people are in critical condition.

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

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