MERS S. Korean death toll rises to three; 1,600 quarantined

June 4, 2015
The waiting room at a children's hospital in Seoul is empty, Thursday, as people are reluctant to visit medical facilities after many patients with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were infected while staying at them. (Yonhap)

The waiting room at a children’s hospital in Seoul is empty, Thursday, as people are reluctant to visit medical facilities after many patients with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were infected while staying at them. (Yonhap)

By Kim Se-jeong

A third individual in South Korea has died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), according to health authorities Thursday.

The male patient was the first death from a tertiary infection, and brings the number of fatalities from the disease to three, and that of confirmed MERS cases to 36 ― including the deceased ― the Ministry of Health and Welfare said. Of the 36, six are cases of tertiary infection.

The 83-year-old man died at a hospital in Daejeon, Wednesday, and tests Thursday confirmed he was infected with the virus.

He had been in isolation since May 30 after sharing a ward with the 16th patient there.

More than 1,600 people have also been isolated either at home or in state-run quarantine centers after coming in to contact with confirmed or suspected sufferers of MERS, 300 more than the previous day.

The ministry said an Air Force chief master sergeant in Osan, Gyeonggi Province, is being quarantined after showing MERS symptoms of coughing and fever.

If confirmed, he will be the first military personnel to be infected with the virus. The Ministry of National Defense said about 100 of his colleagues are being kept in isolation.

Of the 36 confirmed patients, five are medical personnel, triggering concerns that they may have spread the disease to other patients they treated.

In particular, one of them is a doctor at a general hospital in Seoul, raising concern of the capital coming under attack by the spreading virus.

He treated a MERS patient in May and his infection was confirmed Thursday, meaning he may have transmitted the virus before this. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the doctor attended medical symposiums in southern Seoul before the confirmation, contacting some 1,000 people. He was showing MERS symptoms when he took part in the events, meaning his incubation period was over and he was contagious.

The ministry said it is sequencing the genome of the virus for possible mutations. The result is expected as early as today.

It said it is using 33 of 47 negative-pressure isolation facilities designed for infectious disease patients.

Amid rising public calls for the government to disclose the list of hospitals which treated MERS patients, a private website has opened with detailed information on 14 hospitals which it claims have treated people.

It said it collected the information via Internet users’ reports.

Some civic groups in Gyeonggi Province, where the largest number of patients were confirmed, also said they would disclose the list if the administration kept refusing to do so.

But, the government reiterated that it will not disclose the hospital names, saying this would cause “unnecessary” chaos. It said it will share the information with medical service providers only. It did not say what it would do with the website.

The state-run MERS hotline call center said the number of calls they are receiving hovers at around 3,000 each day.

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