No new patients from Samsung Medical Center
Of the three, none was found to have been infected in the medical center’s emergency room, making Thursday the first day since June 4 - when a doctor there who treated a patient next to Patient No. 14 was confirmed for MERS - that the ministry has not reported any new cases.
But while it’s unlikely that the patient has spread the virus to anyone else, there’s still the possibility that Patient No. 137, an emergency room aide, could have exposed others while he was outside quarantine until June 10.
“Patient No. 163, a 53-year-old female, works at Asan Chungmu Hospital, where Patient No. 119 was treated from June 5 to 9,” said Jeong Eun-hyeong, an official from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Patient No. 164, a 35-year-old female, works within a ward at Samsung Medical Center where Patients No. 75 and 80 are being treated. She worked from June 10 to 12.”
Patient No. 165 is a hospitalized patient at Kyung Hee University Hospital in Gangdong District, eastern Seoul, where Patient No. 76 was treated.
But because Patient No. 76 stayed in the emergency room, the health authority is trying to determine how exactly the disease could have been transmitted.
So far, 30 out of 165 confirmed MERS patients, or 18 percent, are medical staff members who have fought the virus on the front lines. Still, it seems that even wearing protective clothing hasn’t been completely protecting them from catching the disease.
Patient No. 164 reportedly did not wear some of the protective gear, and the government is still looking into how she may have been infected. Patient No. 162, a 33-year-old x-ray engineer at Samsung Medical Center, also contracted MERS when he conducted x-rays for Patients No. 72, 80, 135 and 137 from June 11 to 12.
Since Wednesday, Samsung Medical Center has provided entire sets of D-level protective clothing.
D-level is the lowest level of protective clothing and includes a suit, goggles, a mask, gloves and overshoes. A-level is the highest and completely protects the wearer from outside exposure.
“[Guidelines] suggest wearing D-level devices, but [the medical workers were] not well protected because they only wore some of the gear,” said Kwon Deok-cheol, an official at the Health Ministry.
Yet even though reported cases tracing back to Samsung Medical Center are currently on the downswing, concerns remain.
Asan Chungmu Hospital in South Chungcheong, where Patient No. 163 is employed, completely shut down on Thursday over the possibility that it could become a third base for the disease’s spread.
Initial test results suggested that 10 other nurses have been infected, though the results were still inconclusive. All inpatients, except suspected MERS patients, were discharged from the hospital and it is no longer accepting outpatients.
The Shilla Hotel on Jeju Island also closed on Thursday after Patient No. 141, who was confirmed for MERS on Saturday, was found to have traveled to Jeju Island from June 5 to 8 with family and friends.
The 42-year-old man visited a horseback-riding course and a theme park while in Jeju. The Health Ministry immediately isolated 56 people, including those who accompanied him on the trip, hotel employees and flight attendants.
Patient No. 141 contracted the disease while visiting the Samsung Medical Center’s outpatient ward with his father on May 27.
The man made headlines over the weekend, however, when he opted instead to visit Gangnam Severance Hospital via taxi after showing symptoms, even though the Gangnam Community Health Center had sent an ambulance to pick him up.
However, he fled the hospital before he could be put in isolation or confirmed, charging out of the building and going home again via taxi.
Health workers reported that the man was enraged and had shouted that he would spread “MERS to everyone” if he tested positive.
Patient No. 137, who was exposed to Patient No. 14 at Samsung Medical Center, also continued to go out in public until June 10, using the subway system and visiting a hair salon and a mall.
BY KIM BONG-MOON [email@example.com]