SEOUL - More than 100 patients may have been exposed to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) while receiving kidney dialysis at a Seoul-based hospital earlier this month, South Korea's Health Ministry said.
Those with a chronic kidney disease are known to be the most vulnerable to the virus, which often triggers organ failure especially of the kidneys and lungs.
A 79-year-old patient, who was officially diagnosed with Mers on Thursday, had been receiving dialysis treatments regularly at Kyung Hee University Hospital in Gangdong district from June 9 till Thursday.
The man is believed to have been exposed to the virus on June 5 while staying in the same hospital with the nation's 76th confirmed patient, The Korea Herald newspaper reported.
"We are not exactly sure where the 165th patient contacted the 76th patient in the hospital," said Ms Jeong Eun Kyung from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention at the Health Ministry. "We are currently studying CCTV footage to find out."
Another 110 patients with kidney conditions had received dialysis treatments in the same room as the 79-year-old. "We are considering ways to isolate them while ensuring they have the access to necessary medical treatments," said Ms Jeong on Thursday.
South Korea yesterday reported one new case - the lowest rate of new infections in two weeks. This brought to 166 the total number of confirmed Mers cases there since the first was confirmed on May 20, AFP reported.
The latest case involved a 62-year-old man who contracted the virus while giving nursing care to an infected family member at Seoul's Samsung Medical Centre which is the largest epicentre of the outbreak and linked to about half of all confirmed cases.
The hospital suspended services to non-Mers sufferers on Sunday, with other patients being moved to different medical facilities, and would remain closed to other treatments at least until next Wednesday.
As of yesterday , the number of people in quarantine fell 12 per cent to 5,930 from that on Thursday. A rural village sealed off for quarantine was opened up, allowing its population of 102 people to resume normal activities. Road blocks were lifted at Jangdeok Village in Sunchang County, south of Seoul, two weeks after a 72-year- old resident there was diagnosed with the virus. A second village under quarantine is expected to follow suit on Monday, barring any new cases there.
Meanwhile, the Philippines has advised Filipinos in Hong Kong to avoid travelling to South Korea and the Middle East.
"If travel is necessary, please avoid visiting healthcare institutions and take extra precautionary measures such as wearing a mask and frequent hand washing," the Philippine Consulate-General in Hong Kong said on Thursday.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE