Patient with possible MERS symptoms reported

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Patient with possible MERS symptoms reported

A 36-year-old man from Dongducheon, Gyeonggi, was quarantined on Friday after showing symptoms of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The man returned to Korea from a four-month trip to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

At around 4:30 a.m. Friday, the man was reported to have a high fever and other symptoms linked to MERS, a pneumonia-like respiratory disease, and was transferred to the emergency room at a hospital in Dongducheon.

The Gyeonggi Institute of Health and Environment immediately performed tests to confirm whether the patient was infected with MERS, but after the first round of tests, the institute announced that the man had tested negative for the virus.

The Korean government announced on July 28 that the MERS outbreak here was at its end, saying the potentially fatal disease was completely contained after 69 days.

While there have been no new patients reported since July 6, travelers entering Korea from countries in the Middle East who show MERS symptoms are required to alert health authorities. Stringent preventative and quarantine measures also remain in place.

The scare follows a new spike of MERS cases in Saudi Arabia this week, with some 46 new cases reported in the country.

Under the instruction of the institute, the man suspected of having contracted the disease was transferred to and quarantined at the National Medical Center in Seoul.

The man had a fever of 39 degrees Celsius but showed signs of improvement as it decreased to 36.9 degrees. He did not show other MERS-related symptoms like shortness of breath or coughing.

He will undergo second and third rounds of testing at the National Medical Center. Health officials said he will be released when further test results come back negative.

Health officials added that the man did not show any strange symptoms when he passed through the quarantine station Thursday afternoon at Incheon International Airport.

MERS was initially brought to Korea by a 68-year-old man who returned from a business trip to the Middle East in May. The virus then spread, infecting 186 people and claiming 36 lives. It has a mortality rate of 19.4 percent in Korea. The first case was confirmed May 20.

The number of people quarantined at home or in a medical facility after coming into contact with MERS patients spiked at nearly 7,000 in June and finally reached zero toward the end of July.

Following a backlash against the government for failing to initially curb the MERS outbreak, the Board of Audit and Inspection said Friday that it will launch an investigation into why health authorities failed to prevent the MERS outbreak in its early stages.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joognang.co.kr]

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