MERS cases increase again; infection outside of hospitals reported

MERS cases increase again; infection outside of hospitals reported
A South Korean medical worker (C), wearing protective gear, checks the body heat of a visitor (L) at a separated clinic center for MERS at Konkuk University Hospital in Seoul on June 24, 2015.

Korea quarantines 298 more people to prevent possible infection

South Korea reported four more cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome Wednesday, while announcing that it has placed 298 more people under quarantine to prevent possible infection.

The Health Ministry also reported the nation's first MERS case that occurred outside of hospitals, which may be a sign that community transmissions of the disease have taken place in the country.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the virus has killed 27 people and infected 179. No death was reported on the same day, although 16 patients are currently in unstable condition. Meanwhile, 13 more patients have been discharged from hospitals, raising the total number of recovered individuals to 67.

According to health authorities, the nation's 175th patient is believed to have been infected by his late wife, the 118th patient, who died from MERS on June 13, while staying at home together.

His late wife was infected by the 14th patient while caring for her husband, who had been hospitalised at the Good Morning Hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, for pneumonia from May 23-29. After being discharged, he and his 67-year-old wife were placed under quarantine together at home until June 10, the day the wife was officially diagnosed with MERS. She died three days later.

The 175th patient, 75, had been asymptomatic even after his wife's death, but started experiencing fever on June 21. He was officially diagnosed with MERS earlier this week. Considering the maximum incubation period of MERS is 14 days, the Health Ministry said it is most likely that the 175th patient was infected by his late wife at home, not at the hospital in Pyeongtaek.

While concerns are rising over the possibility of community-transmission of MERS, the World Health Organisation assured on Friday that the risk to the general public is low.

"Even if transmission spills over into the general community, such cases are not likely to sustain further transmission," Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of WHO, told reporters in Seoul last week.

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