MERS victims' families suffer from depression

MERS victims' families suffer from depression
PHOTO: AFP

While Seoul reported no additional Middle East respiratory syndrome cases for three consecutive days for the first time since the index case was confirmed in May, many families of the deceased victims have been reported to be suffering from depression and insomnia.

Health authorities reported one more death on Tuesday, raising the toll to 33 and the fatality rate of the disease to 18 per cent. Meanwhile, two more patients have been discharged from hospitals, bringing the number of recovered patients up to 95 out of 182.

Among the patients who are currently being treated, 13 are in unstable condition, according to the Health Ministry. Since June 24, only three new MERS cases have been reported.

While MERS' spread was seen abating after weeks of sending the nation into a scare, a significant number of family members of deceased MERS victims are suffering from their loss, the health authorities said.

They surveyed 68 individuals who have lost family members to MERS throughout the last two weeks to determine their financial and emotional needs.

According to the government study, 41 of them were experiencing symptoms of either depression or insomnia, while 19 per cent of them were suffering from anger issues. Also, 18 per cent of them have asked for financial assistance from the government, while 15 per cent of them said they need medical assistance for their current conditions.

Heartbreaking stories had been reported in the earlier stages of the outbreak, as isolated family members were not allowed to stand by their spouse or parents' deathbeds to say goodbye.

Health authorities eventually on June 19 allowed family members of MERS patients to visit their sick relatives at the hospitals on the condition they wear full safety gear, should the patient's condition become critical and unrecoverable.

Just four days before the Health Ministry's announcement of the decision, a 65-year-old MERS patient died in the intensive care unit at Eulji University Hospital in Daejeon without being able to see her family members a final time.

As the medical facility at the time banned visitors from entering the property to prevent possible infection, her family instead wrote letters to her to share their last words. The letters were read to her by the nursing staff five hours before her death.

"We've been offering therapy sessions for family members of late MERS victims who wish to seek professional help," said Kwon Deok-cheol, a senior official at the Health Ministry's MERS response headquarters.

"We plan to continue to speak to the families and offer help according to their needs."

The newly reported death was of the nation's 50th patient, who had preexisting medical conditions including high blood pressure and heart disease before being infected with MERS. The 81-year-old died Monday.

Since the nation's index case was confirmed on May 20, a total of 33 people have died from the virus. Among them, the largest number of them -- 30.3 per cent -- are in their 60s and 70s, followed by those who are in their 80s and 50s.

Also, 90 per cent of all deceased patients either had preexisting medical conditions, including cancer, heart, lung or kidney diseases, or were aged 50 or older.

According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 36 per cent of reported patients with MERS have died worldwide.

While Korea's MERS fatality rate stood at 18.1 per cent on Tuesday, Jeong Eun-kyung from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention at the Health Ministry declined to comment on whether she thought the rate would rise or decline.

"Right now, all we can say is that we are doing our best to treat those who are in critical condition and to prevent the fatality rate from going up," she said.

"We can only study the statistics and what they represent after this outbreak is over."

Some 90 medical facilities nationwide, including the Samsung Medical Center, have been affected by the outbreak. Some hospitals are still being monitored as potential MERS patients remain in their incubation period. More cases may be identified from these facilities, authorities said.

The incubation period for those who were exposed to the virus at Hallym University Medical Center in Seoul ends July 6. Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong, where about 90 patients with kidney diseases are currently being treated in isolation, will be monitored until July 10.

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