S. Korean woman has Mers - a week after quarantine over

Women wearing face masks in a shopping district in Seoul on June 19, 2015.
Women wearing face masks in a shopping district in Seoul on June 19, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL • The latest Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) infection in South Korea took place a week after a woman was released from precautionary quarantine and the health authorities are now trying to figure out how she contracted the virus.

The 50-year-old cancer patient, who was diagnosed with the disease last Saturday, is the 186th person confirmed to have been infected with Mers in the country. She is the wife of a 55-year-old Mers patient who caught the disease on June 12, but was discharged after making a full recovery last Thursday, reported The Korea Herald.

The woman was quarantined for 14 days after her husband was found to be infected.

But the woman began showing first symptoms, a fever, only on Thursday, according to officials from the Mers special response team at the health ministry. That was 21 days after being isolated from her husband. The disease is thought to have a maximum dormancy period of 14 days.

"It is likely she acquired the virus from her husband, and the symptoms belatedly showed up after her cancer treatment compromised her immune system," said Dr Jeong Eun Gyeong of the Mers special response team.

There have been similar cases of belated symptoms before, but the authorities maintained that there was no evidence the incubation period estimate was wrong.

She may have instead been infected by Mers at Samsung Medical Centre in Gangnam district, southern Seoul, where she went last Monday to receive cancer treatment, three days before the symptoms showed up.

"We believe there is no possibility that patient No. 186 was exposed to medical staff infected with Mers... We are conducting further investigation on (her being infected via) other medical staff or patients, but such a possibility is low, for now," Dr Jeong said.

If this turns out to be true, the woman would be the 91st person to have been infected at the Samsung hospital, which has been found responsible for nearly half of the 186 Mers cases in the country.

The death toll from the Mers outbreak in South Korea held at 33 for the fifth straight day yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2015, with the headline 'S. Korean woman has Mers - a week after quarantine over'. Print Edition | Subscribe