S. Korea confirms third case of MERS virus; 64 isolated
South Korean health officials confirmed the country’s third case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Thursday (May 21).
The two latest cases were in people who had been in contact with the first patient after he returned from the Middle East.
As a precaution, the authorities have isolated another 64 people – the patients' family members and medical workers treating the trio.
The director of Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Yang Byung Guk, said the first man was diagnosed with the disease on Wednesday (May 20) after a trip to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where the disease broke out.
Test results later came back positive for the man's wife, who is 63, and for a 76-year-old man who shared a hospital room with him, the health ministry said.
Dr Shin Hyoung Shik, an infectious disease specialist, said: "The first patient has been recovering, with less difficulty in breathing."
The other two have fevers but no signs of breathing difficulties, said the doctor.
No cure, no vaccine
The ministry said it does not think the disease will spread as those who had been in contact with the first patient have been isolated.
The fatality rate for MERS is 30 to 40 per cent, and its incubation period is two to 14 days, experts say. There is no cure or vaccine.
It was first identified in humans in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus, from the same family as the one that caused a deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.
SARS killed 774 people worldwide, including 33 people in Singapore.
South Korea’s health ministry said 23 countries had a combined 1,142 cases of MERS and 465 deaths had been reported, as of May 16. Of the total, 1,117 cases, or 97.8 per cent, were in the Middle East.
The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a travel notice in February: "While no cases of MERS-CoV have been detected in Singapore thus far, Singaporeans residing in, or travelling to the Middle East, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should remain vigilant, monitor local developments through the media and their local contacts, and observe measures recommended by local health authorities."
Advisory from Singapore's health ministry
To reduce the risk of exposure to MERS, Singaporeans are advised to adopt the following health precautions when overseas:
- Observe good personal hygiene at all times
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections (for example, someone who is coughing)
- Avoid contact with camels and other live farm or wild animals
- Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices and avoid consuming unpasteurised milk, undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables (unless they have been peeled), or unsafe water
Frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrims are advised to:
- Be vaccinated against influenza and meningitis
- Persons aged 65 and above or those with chronic medical conditions should get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections
- While there is no vaccination against MERS, vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal infections will help prevent common infections with similar symptoms to MERS
- Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions) should consult a doctor before travelling