Coronavirus not cause of death for Daegu teenager

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Coronavirus not cause of death for Daegu teenager

Health authorities confirmed Thursday that a 17-year-old high school student from North Gyeongsang who died while being treated for pneumonia-like symptoms Wednesday tested negative for the coronavirus.

The boy surnamed Jeong, who was a senior at a high school in Gyeongsan in North Gyeongsang adjacent to Daegu, had no preexisting health conditions. He had been treated at the Yeungnam University Medical Center in Daegu before he died Wednesday. Health authorities concluded Jeong died of multiple organ failures.

News of Jeong’s death sparked concern, as if he had indeed been infected with the coronavirus, he would be the first teenager to have died from the disease in Korea.

Jeong developed a fever on March 10. Because he didn’t have any preexisting conditions, hadn’t traveled to China in recent days, nor was he affiliated with the Shincheonji church - a religious sect at the center of a major cluster of virus outbreaks - he was just prescribed medicine by the first hospital he visited, Gyeongsan Joongang Hospital in North Gyeongsang, and sent back home, according to his parents. His fever soared to 41.5 degrees Celsius (106.7 degrees Fahrenheit) at one point.

His symptoms worsened and eventually Jeong went back to Gyeongsan Joongang Hospital on March 12 and was transferred to the Yeungnam Medical Center last Friday.

Yeungnam suspected that Jeong had been infected with the coronavirus, with Daegu being the epicenter of the coronavirus in Korea. Jeong received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, used in severe cases of respiratory failure, in the intensive care unit, and was later placed under renal replacement therapy. His parents were told multiple times that he tested negative for Covid-19, however.

Jeong died at 11:16 a.m. Wednesday.

However, according to his death certificate revealed by his parents to the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday, the initial cause of death was cited as “acute lung damage from coronavirus” by the Yeungnam University Medical Center.

Jeong’s father said that the Yeungnam hospital staff told him that because his son has not been confirmed as a coronavirus patient, they would revise the death certificate so the cause of death would read “pneumonia.” This raised further controversy.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a briefing Thursday that a total of 13 rounds of tests had been carried out by Yeungnam hospital between March 13 and Wednesday on Jeong while he was being treated for pneumonia symptoms which all indicated he was negative for the coronavirus. However, a confusing final test had a urine sample show up as positive on the day of his death Wednesday morning.

Health authorities conducted postmortem tests on samples collected before Jeong’s death. The KCDC and two medical centers in Seoul - the Seoul National University Hospital and Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital - all concluded Thursday that Jeong tested negative for the virus.

Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director at the KCDC, said in the briefing that an “error” must have occurred at the Yeungnam University Medical Center in the testing process. Experts indicated a contamination in the hospital lab and that the last urine sample test could be seen as inconclusive.

The KCDC said that because Jeong’s tests concluded he was not infected with the coronavirus, it was determined there was no need for an autopsy.

His parents told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday that their son had generally been avoiding going out over the past three weeks, but that he went out to stand in line despite pouring rain to buy a face mask on the afternoon of March 10 before he developed a fever.

Jeong’s father told the JoongAng Ilbo after hearing the results of the testing, “It doesn’t matter now whether or not my son was coronavirus positive. I’m resentful toward the [initial] hospital for sending my son back when he had a fever of 41 degrees Celsius.”

Both of Jeong’s parents tested negative for the virus.

BY BAEK KYUNG-SEO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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