Mysterious cases of pneumonia on rise at university

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Mysterious cases of pneumonia on rise at university

The number of people who came down with pneumonia at Konkuk University, eastern Seoul, drastically increased over the weekend, and health authorities still haven’t found the cause.

At this stage, the cause seems more likely to be an environmental agent than an infection.

The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) held a briefing Monday and announced a total of 76 suspected cases. A total of 50 patients were confirmed with pneumonia.

“All 50 patients are commonly showing symptoms of an acute atypical pneumonia,” said KCDC Director Yang Byeong-guk. “None of them are in serious condition and 19 are recovering from the disease. They are hospitalized in seven different medical facilities.”

All 50 patients worked on the third to seventh floors of the Animal Biotechnology building of Konkuk University and the quarantine authority believes they were exposed in the same place.

By the time the KCDC shut the building last Wednesday, there were 21 patients, which increased to 31 on Thursday, 34 on Friday, 44 on Saturday and 49 on Sunday.

The quarantine authority said the disease doesn’t seem to be contagious between human.

“There are no suspected patients among family members or medical staff members that have come into close contact with the patients,” said Prof. Chun Byung-chul of preventive medicine at Korea University, who is in charge of the epidemiological study. “We suppose the disease was contracted in a way that does not involve contacts between human.”

The KCDC has conducted more than 90 percent of tests for 16 of the most common viruses and bacteria, but only four patients tested positive for rhinovirus, a common cold virus which the KCDC believes has nothing to do with the mysterious pneumonia.

The KCDC also collected samples from some 30 patients for fungal culture test, but results take days to months depending on the type of fungus. The KCDC also collected environmental samples at the university building, but it also takes a couple of weeks to give results.

The KCDC is discussing quarantine measures and when the patients may be discharged.

The number of people being monitored by the KCDC is 1,664, which includes other workers from the building.

BY JUNG JONG-HOON, KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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