Second Zika case slips by authorities; patient rests

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Second Zika case slips by authorities; patient rests

A second Korean man was found to be infected with the Zika virus, but it took a week after his symptoms showed for him to receive a confirmed diagnosis, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday.

This is not unlike the first case of Zika virus infection, found in Korea last month, when the infected patient was allowed to return home even after he had told the doctor that he had come down with a fever after returning from Brazil.

Health authorities have been adopting systems such as the Drug Utilization Review (DUR), as well as policies to ensure that possible Zika infections are reported within 24 hours, but this most recent case indicates that such measures are still ineffective in ensuring immediate diagnosis and response.

The 20-year-old man returned from a five-day trip in the Philippines on April 14. On April 20, he visited a local medical clinic in Nowon District, northern Seoul, after he began to suffer from a fever and chills. The clinic did not suspect him of carrying Zika at the time, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

He then sought medical treatment at Inje University Sanggye Paik Hospital last Saturday, after rashes broke out on his skin. Hospital officials reported him as a possible Zika case that same day.

It was by Monday that the hospital transferred his files and specimens to the Korea National Institute of Health (NIH), operating under the CDC, which confirmed on Wednesday that the man is indeed infected with the Zika virus.

“Since Zika is not a fatal disease,” said an official of the Emergency Response Department of the Health Ministry, “the hospital requested that it ship the specimens on Saturday, and just like any other delivery system in Korea, the package was picked up on Monday, delivered, and the NIH made the final diagnosis on Wednesday.”

The patient had told his doctors he had visited the Philippines, but it is likely the connection to Zika was not immediately made since the Philippines is not an area with active mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus, according to the U.S. CDC.

“The DUR system, whereby the doctors can check the country that a patient has recently visited,” the ministry official said, “only shows countries with active Zika transmission.”

The man was scheduled to be discharged on Thursday after being hospitalized for the day at Seoul National University Hospital.

Health authorities came under fire last month for their lack of immediate diagnosis and response regarding Korea’s first Zika virus case.

The Korean CDC reported its first case of a Korean national diagnosed with the Zika virus on March 22.

The man had returned from a 22-day trip to Brazil on March 11.

He first started showing symptoms of the virus when he ran a fever on March 16. He visited a local clinic in Gwangyang, South Jeolla, on March 18, telling the doctor about his trip to Brazil, an area designated as being active with Zika virus transmission, according to the U.S. CDC. Nevertheless, he was allowed to return home.

He revisited the hospital on March 21, suffering from muscle pain. It was only then that the clinic reported his case to authorities, and the NIH diagnosed him with Zika the next day.

According to the U.S. CDC, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of the Aedes mosquito, which includes the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.

While the Aedes aegypti mosquito is not found in Korea, the Aedes albopictus mosquito is. However, the likelihood of this Korean mosquito species biting an infected Zika patient and then transferring the virus to another person remains incredibly low because not all bites by infected mosquitoes spread the virus, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the CDC.

They added that from 2013 to 2015, of the total number of mosquitoes found in Korea, only about 1.8 percent are Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

The Zika virus can be spread by a man to his sex partners, according to the U.S. CDC. It has not been confirmed if it can be spread through blood transfusions, though there have been suspected cases of Zika transmission through blood transfusion in Brazil. According to the U.S. CDC, these cases are being further investigated.

Unlike the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which threw the country into panic last summer, the Zika virus does not spread by human contact, nor is it fatal. It can be treated simply by resting.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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