Two Seoul hospitals praised for their quick responses to virus

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Two Seoul hospitals praised for their quick responses to virus

Two hospitals in Seoul were credited Wednesday for their effective and timely efforts to successfully prevent subsequent transmissions of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), at the same time Samsung Medical Center found itself the source of 47 third-generation infections.

During a press briefing Wednesday, an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare gave rare praise to St. Mary’s Hospital in Yeouido and Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital, both in Seoul, for having taken necessary steps to quarantine people suspected to have contracted MERS and testing them for the disease in a matter of hours.

“The two hospitals responded in the same manner as patients who visited the hospital to be tested. … Medical staff there, all wearing protective clothing, took them to a quarantined area to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others, ” said Kwon Deok-cheol, director of the medical policy team at the ministry during a briefing Wednesday, calling their responses earlier this week “exemplary.”

The cases pointed to by the official came as Samsung Medical Center, known for its skilled staff and top-notch medical equipment, found itself at the center of MERS infections. In the past two weeks, 47 people who visited the hospital have become infected.

Korea’s specific hospital culture, in which family members closely nurse their sick relatives, has been attributed as one of the primary reasons MERS has spread over such a short period. Crowded emergency wards, where relatives often share the same space with the sick, have also been pinpointed as a major factor.

A close look at how St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul responded earlier this week to a visit by a 63-year-old suspected of having contracted the virus, offers a model case in preventing the disease’s spread.

The man, who later tested positive to become Patient No. 105, visited the hospital on Monday at about 2:20 p.m. when his fever showed no sign of abating. He was in Samsung Medical Center’s emergency ward from May 27 to 28, which coincided with the treatment period for Patient No. 14, the source for all of the center’s 47 infections.

The 63-year-old went to St. Mary’s emergency ward, where he was directed by a sign on the front entrance to go to an area cordoned off for those who believe they may have been exposed to MERS.

In the emergency ward, the medical staff took him to a special quarantined zone after he notified them of his stay at Samsung Medical Center. The hospital concluded in its self-evaluation that the man had contracted MERS and reported the case to health authorities.

By 7 a.m. the next day, he was put in isolation in a state-designated medical facility after testing positive.

Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital is also credited for carrying out proper protocol for a man later confirmed as Patient No. 98.

The 58-year-old was transferred to the hospital on Monday after his pneumonia worsened. Though the exact cause of his illness was undetermined upon his arrival at Ewha, staff members there were fully prepared to treat and isolate him.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, NOH JIN-HO [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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