Five MERS cases are most outside Middle East

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Five MERS cases are most outside Middle East

A fifth patient was confirmed to have contracted a potentially fatal respiratory disease from the Middle East Wednesday, a week after the first patient was diagnosed.

Korea now has the highest number of patients with Middle East Respiratory Disease (MERS) in nations outside the Middle East.

Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday that it carried out tests on four people who showed possible MERS symptoms and one of them, a doctor who examined the first patient in Seoul on May 17, was found to have contracted the disease. Three others tested negative. The news was startling because the doctor only saw Patient No. 1 for a short time. MERS is known to be less contagious than many other infectious diseases.

But the CDC played down the development.

“If the disease was highly infectious or if the infection could spread through the air, there would have been many more patients after he started showing symptoms after May 11,” said Kim Yeong-cheol, head of the CDC’s infectious disease control department, in a radio interview on Wednesday. “So we are concluding that the disease is not highly infectious and [the fifth patient] is a coincidental case.”

“It is a relatively new type of infectious disease and no airborne infection has been reported so far,” Kim added.

Another suspected infection was reported from Jeongeup, North Jeolla, on Wednesday. The CDC said on Wednesday that a 25-year-old woman who stayed in Algeria for four months and returned to Korea via Qatar developed symptoms similar to MERS Tuesday. The CDC is examining the woman.

“We were supposed to isolate her on Thursday, but we decided to take her to a hospital today,” said a CDC official. “However, she isn’t likely to have been infected by the MERS coronavirus because she only shows cold symptoms and she mainly stayed in North Africa and only made a stopover in the Middle East.”

The first case of MERS in Korea was reported on May 20, when a 68-year-old man who traveled to the Middle East and returned on May 4 tested positive.

Subsequently, his wife was found to have contracted the disease.

The third and fourth patients are a 76-year-old patient and his daughter who shared the same hospital room with Patient No. 1 for several hours.

A total of 61 people who had contact with those patients have been restricted to their homes, although it is possible for them to infect family members if they have the virus. The fifth patient is known to have stayed with his wife and daughter before he was diagnosed with MERS.

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.

The U.K. has had four MERS patients, resulting in three dead.

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

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