Fourth cholera case confirmed in 1 month

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Fourth cholera case confirmed in 1 month

Korea now has its fourth confirmed cholera case within a month’s time, health authorities said on Saturday.

The patient, a 47-year-old resident of Busan, showed symptoms on Aug. 29, a few hours after eating out at a sushi restaurant in Saha District, when he started suffering from diarrhea. It was one day after he had returned from a trip to the Philippines.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) was notified on Tuesday, tested him and confirmed on Sunday that he is infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, which causes cholera. The man is currently being quarantined and treated in a local hospital in Busan.

Given that the normal incubation period of the bacterium is two to three days, health authorities suspect the man may have caught the disease in the Philippines, where he stayed from Aug. 24 to 28.

Authorities tested 15 people including the man’s family members, fellow travelers and the restaurant staff, but all tested negative in their initial examinations. The six restaurant staff members also tested negative in their secondary examinations.

Health authorities will be conducting a thorough epidemiological survey to determine where and how he caught the disease.

All three former cases of cholera were domestic cases in which the patients caught the disease from eating raw fish in South Gyeongsang. Their pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) tests revealed that all three caught cholera from a type of Vibrio cholerae bacterium with the same DNA.

The disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not likely to spread directly from one person to another. Health authorities are testing the seawater near Geoje and investigating other possible sanitation issues in the area.

If the Busan resident is found to have contracted cholera while traveling, he will be the first international case this year. While domestic cases have been nonexistent for 15 years, internationally-introduced cases have not been uncommon, with 16 in 2005, three in 2011 and three in 2013. There were, however, no cases in 2014 or 2015.

“It is likely that the fourth patient this year caught cholera while travelling in the Philippines,” said Kim Hee-young, head of the Health and Sports Bureau of the Busan Metropolitan Government, which is monitoring some 1,600 clinics, hospitals and food-service facilities in the city for early prevention of possible cholera breakouts. “But we are leaving all options open and once the PFGE test results come out, we will be able to determine where and how the man caught the disease.”

As the first domestic case of cholera in 15 years, a 59-year-old man tested positive on Aug. 22 after he ate raw fish during his vacation to a beach in South Gyeongsang earlier this month. His wife, son and daughter all tested negative for cholera.

Within three days, a 73-year-old woman tested positive for cholera. She said she ate raw Spanish mackerel at her church in Geoje, South Gyeongsang, on Aug. 14. Tests of her acquaintances and people who came into close contact with her are ongoing.

And on Tuesday, a 64-year-old man tested positive for cholera, marking the third case this year. He initially told health authorities he ate cooked seafood that he had bought in a fish market in Geoje, but the KCDC tracked his credit card records and discovered he had visited a raw sushi restaurant in Geoje.

Health authorities said his wife tested negative, and they are still investigating whether his acquaintances may have caught the disease.

None of the three patients have travelled abroad this year. They have been discharged from their hospitals after making a full recovery, which, according to the KCDC, normally means the end of diarrheal bouts followed by a 48-hour quarantine.

BY KANG SEUNG-WOO AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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