A public health worker fumigates Wangsimni Station in Seongdong District, Seoul, to prevent the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Thursday. / Yonhap
Containment effort at Samsung Medical Center feared to be breached
By Kim Rahn
An outpatient at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul has been diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the first infection outside the hospital’s emergency room where a confirmed patient spread the disease to 54 others, health authorities said Thursday.
The new case suggests that the virus could be transmitted via air. Virus experts have said infection by the MERS virus is usually through direct contact with patients or exposure to their coughing.
Including the new case, a total of 122 people have contracted the virus. One more death, a 75-year-old lung cancer patient, was reported Thursday, raising the death toll to 10.
The disease seems to be spreading to southern parts of the country, as several residents there have been confirmed with the disease after visiting hospitals in Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas.
The ministry said a 77-year-old woman who received treatment at the hospital’s orthopedics department as an outpatient on May 27 was infected with MERS.
So far, all the infections from the hospital had been limited to people who visited the emergency room where the nation’s 14th patient stayed for three days. The ministry thus said an outbreak in areas of the hospital other than the emergency room was unlikely.
Both the orthopedics department and the emergency room are on the first floor, but the two are not close. Between them is the radiology department.
“The patient had an X-ray, and after that visited a restroom in the emergency room section. Through surveillance camera recordings within the hospital, we are examining if she was exposed to the 14th patient there,” a hospital official said.
The ministry ruled out the possibility of airborne infection.
Her case was found as the government has been checking all pneumonia patients nationwide since Wednesday, and she was at a clinic in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, with pneumonia symptoms. The ministry is continuing the checks.
As of Thursday, 122 people were confirmed to have contracted the disease, up 14 from the previous day.
Eight of the new cases were from Samsung Medical Center, including a pregnant woman. She first tested positive, then negative, and finally positive. The 39-year-old had been hospitalized there ahead of her due date in the middle of this month, and went to the emergency room as her mother was there with stomach problems.
“She has mild symptoms and is in a stable condition,” a ministry official said. “If mild symptoms continue and she tests negative next week, she may have a normal delivery. But if her condition worsens, a Caesarean operation will be an option.”
Another newly confirmed case is a police officer at Pyeongtaek Police Station in Gyeonggi Province, where the nation’s first MERS patient visited several hospitals there before Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital confirmed he had the disease, May 20.
He showed a fever after meeting a friend who came from Saudi Arabia on May 26 and 28, and so visited the Good Samarian Bagae Hospital, June 1. He tested positive first, but later negative in a second test, and was released June 4.
But the symptoms worsened, and he was confirmed infected, Thursday.
The ministry suspects he did not contract the virus from the friend but from Bagae Hospital, where another MERS patient visited the same day. However, it is still examining the exact source of infection.
Officials said some 3,800 people have been isolated at government-designated facilities or their homes. Affected regions are also growing, with cases in Boseong, South Jeolla Province and Okcheon, North Chungcheong Province being confirmed.
Four more patients have recovered and been released from quarantine facilities, including an Air Force chief master sergeant at Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi Province, bringing the total recovered cases to seven.
The ministry said it would announce a list of “safe hospitals” that will treat non-MERS patients with respiratory problems.