Mers: New Seoul hospital under watch

Woman infected at another hospital may have spread virus to hundreds at new site

Seoul - South Korea yesterday said it was closely monitoring a hospital in eastern Seoul over fears that hundreds of people there may have been exposed to the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) virus.

A 70-year-old woman who caught Mers while visiting an infected relative in a different hospital was feared to have spread the virus to the new site.

"We are focusing our efforts on tracing contacts and isolating people who came close to this patient," a senior Health Ministry official told journalists yesterday.

The woman died last Thursday, two days after she was diagnosed, but due to the virus' 14-day incubation period, anyone she infected may start showing symptoms only in the coming days.

The official said it was too early to say whether the outbreak may be on the wane, given that new cases are expected at the new site. "We would be able to talk about any trend of the outbreak only after watching the development at the hospital."

The comments came as the country reported one additional Mers case, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 182 in the largest outbreak of the deadly virus outside Saudi Arabia.

But no additional fatalities were reported, with the death toll standing at 31, said the Health Ministry.

The latest case involved a 27-year-old nurse at a hospital in eastern Seoul, who was believed to have been infected while treating a patient.

She is the fifth confirmed case at the hospital, where more than 100 patients who were exposed to the virus while undergoing dialysis have been isolated at the facility since June 18.

Of the 182 confirmed cases, 90 people have recovered, 31 have died and 61 others are still being treated - 13 of whom are listed in a critical condition.

Most of the dead had pre-existing medical conditions, according to the Health Ministry.

Some 2,467 people were in isolation, down from 2,931 last Friday.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, images on local media showed people wearing hazmat suits at a major subway station, cleaning the escalators and mopping the floors after a 17-year-old Korean male with a fever sought medical care at a clinic in the station.

The city's health minister said the man was being tested for Mers.

"Today, there is a patient. He is a young Korean male and came to Hong Kong from the United States passing through South Korea. He's been in Hong Kong for around 10 days but today he had a fever," Health Minister Ko Wing Man told reporters.

The area outside the clinic in the station was cordoned off and the man has since been isolated in hospital.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'Mers: New Seoul hospital under watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe