Half of confirmed MERS patients in S Korea recover

Photo: Reuters

South Korean health authorities announced Sunday that a total of 91 confirmed Middle East respiratory syndrome patients have been discharged from hospitals, meaning half of all patients have recovered from the virus so far.

Korea marked the lowest daily increase of confirmed MERS cases Sunday since June 20. No additional cases were reported, keeping the total number of MERS cases at 182. Authorities however confirmed one MERS death, raising the death toll to 32 and the fatality rate of the disease to 17.6 per cent.

While the outbreak is once again showing signs of slowing - only three new cases were reported from June 24-27, while 13 cases were confirmed from June 20-23 - authorities said it is possible that more cases may be identified in the future, especially from the Hallym University Medical Center in Seoul.

The hospital is where the late 173rd patient had been hospitalised without knowing of her MERS infection. The 70-year-old stayed at the hospital from June 18-24. She died Wednesday, just two days after officially being diagnosed with MERS.

Almost 5,000 people who either stayed at or visited the hospital during the particular period are currently being monitored for possible infection, said Jeong Eun-kyung from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention at the Health Ministry.

Among them, 394 of them have been quarantined at home, while 137 have been isolated in medical facilities. The remaining 4,294 have been placed under special monitoring by the health authorities.

"We believe most people were exposed to the 173rd patient from June 20-22," said Jeong.

"We have been consistently monitoring those who may have been infected, but so far no one has been diagnosed yet."

Concerns have been rising about the particular 173rd case, the late patient, as she had developed pneumonia on top of MERS while staying at the hospital.

Pneumonia, a disease that can seriously deteriorate a MERS patient's condition, had also afflicted the nation's five other "super-spreaders" -- those who spread the virus to more than two individuals.

"Those five patients are the index, sixth, 14th, 15th and 16th patients," said Dr. Lee Jae-gab from Hallym University Medical Center, who last week studied 98 MERS cases occurring in Korea.

Dr. Lee also discovered that the five super-spreaders were diagnosed with MERS relatively late. While they were diagnosed an average of 8.2 days after they experienced their first symptoms, the non-spreaders were diagnosed an average of 4.6 days after developing MERS symptoms.

The 173rd patient also visited a number of medical facilities in the Gangdong district of Seoul while showing MERS symptoms from June 10-18, before she was hospitalised at the Hallym University Medical Center in Seoul. She had not been informed about her exposure to MERS by the authorities, and died just two days after her official diagnosis.

The authorities also confirmed the 182nd patient, who was previously said to be the first to be diagnosed with MERS while showing no symptoms, in fact had experienced mild MERS-like symptoms prior to her diagnosis.

The 27-year-old nurse, who was exposed to the virus while working at the Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong, had been quarantined at home from June 7-24. She was diagnosed Friday, two days after the quarantine had ended.

"We interviewed the patient and it turned out that she did have some symptoms while being quarantined at home," said Kwon Deok-cheol from the Health Ministry, revoking his previous statement from the day before. The Health Ministry had announced Saturday that the patient could be the first to be diagnosed with MERS while being asymptomatic.

"We learned that she experienced mild indigestion on June 14. She also said she coughed whenever she was in cold air."

Meanwhile, the newly confirmed death turned out to be the nation's 104th patient, who was infected by the 14th patient at the emergency room of the Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul. The 55-year-old was diagnosed with the virus on June 9 and died Saturday. He was also diabetic.

As of Sunday, 2,562 individuals remained in isolation. The number increased from 2,467 the day before.

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