Lung condition of South Korean Mers patient in China worsens: Report

A woman walking into a quarantine tent for suspected MERS cases at the Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
A woman walking into a quarantine tent for suspected MERS cases at the Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - The lung condition of a South Korean man who entered China with the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) virus had worsened and he was on a respirator, state media reported on Tuesday.

The state-run China Daily, citing the Health and Family Planning Commission in the southern province of Guangdong where the man is being treated, also said he was feverish but still conscious and his vital signs were stable.

The man flew to Hong Kong from Seoul on Tuesday last week, and later travelled overland to Huizhou in Guangdong by bus, ignoring the advice of doctors to stay at home, the China Daily reported on Monday. He is reportedly the first person to enter the country with the Mers virus.

The sickness can cause symptoms ranging from flu-like aches and pains to pneumonia and kidney failure and is considered a deadlier cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), which appeared in 2003 and killed more than 800 around the world, including nearly 350 in China.

Hundreds of Chinese people have cancelled travel to South Korea, where two deaths and tertiary infections with the Mers virus were identified on Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Separately, reports emerged online over the weekend that the hospital selected medical staff to treat the man by drawing lots and that unmarried employees were sent first.

The Huizhou Central People's Hospital said that nurses were asked to draw lots because there were "too many volunteers", thepaper.cn, a news portal based in Shanghai, reported on Monday.

"A ballot was indeed arranged but it was not compulsory. We decided to draw lots because too many nurses volunteered to take care of the patient," the report cited Jiang Guisu, head of the ICU nursing department, as saying at a press conference.

Jiang said the department wanted 14 more nurses from other units in the hospital to reinforce its 40-person team but too many staffers applied, it said.

The hospital said not all of the nurses on the shift were unmarried but that was preferred because they are generally younger and stronger and married people are under more pressures because they have children to raise, it added.

An online forum on zhihu.com, however, suggested that not all of the nurses were as willing to care for the patient as the hospital described.

"We had the first ballot today to confirm the first list (of nurses) to go to the ICU to attend to the Mers patient," according to a posting from what appeared to be one of the nurses and that looked like it was sent from a mobile phone.

"The first batch excludes married nurses and doctors. But if it (Mers) spreads, everyone will be in," the post added.

"I hope the matter will be controlled as soon as possible because I really do not want to go. But if it really worsens to that extent, I will have to go ahead. So my dear relatives, please take good care of yourself so that I will not worry about you."