Enteritis on the upswing amid worries over MERS

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Enteritis on the upswing amid worries over MERS

When her 8-year-old developed a high fever of over 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), Mrs. Lee, a resident of Gangdong District in eastern Seoul, began to worry that her child may have somehow contracted Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The potentially fatal disease has swept Korea over the past month, putting thousands in quarantine and infecting more than 150 people.

Though Lee could have taken her child to the emergency room, just a five-minute drive from her house, she opted not to, with large university and general hospitals pegged as the disease’s primary infection routes.

Instead, Lee gave her child fever reducers and waited until the next day to take her child to a neighborhood doctor, who determined that the youngster had enteritis, an inflammatory disease that affects the intestine.

“I was indescribably relieved when the doctor said it wasn’t MERS,” she said.

With temperatures outside gradually rising, enteritis has quickly spread among young students, increasing concern among parents and the medical community given its similarities to MERS.

Primary MERS symptoms include coughing and chest congestion. Occasionally, however, it can also induce problems with the digestive system, including diarrhea and indigestion.

“Enteritis is a digestive disease that comes about due to the Rota and Noro viruses, but it is frequently accompanied by high fevers and body aches, so there are a lot of enteritis patients worried that they caught MERS,” explained Lee Kyung-yeon, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Ulsan University Hospital.

But unlike MERS, Lee said, enteritis can usually be treated in five to seven days with fluids and antibiotics.

The overlap in symptoms has many hospitals reporting a sudden increase in inquiries about MERS from patients actually suffering from enteritis.

A resident of Dalseo District, in Daegu, surnamed Yoon became incredibly anxious when her five-year-old daughter began suffering from diarrhea, having recently read in the newspaper that MERS could cause such symptoms.

The two immediately visited a nearby children’s hospital, where the child received a diagnosis for enteritis - a significantly more likely conclusion based on the fact that Yoon’s daughter was not coughing or having any respiratory issues.

One in three people visiting this hospital for outpatient care, it turns out, suffer from enteritis, not MERS.

“If there are no respiratory symptoms, like a cough or a runny nose, but diarrhea hits five to seven times a day, one should suspect enteritis rather than MERS,” said Cho Young-seok, a professor in the Department of Gastroenterology at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital.

In the case of MERS patient No. 143, however, the individual was initially suspected to have a simple case of enteritis, with just a mild fever and diarrhea.

But after tests, the patient was confirmed on June 12 to have MERS.

To prevent enteritis, experts recommend frequently and thoroughly washing one’s hands.

BY CHA SANG-EUN [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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