By Kim Rahn
A new case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was confirmed Thursday for the first time in five days.
With the latest outbreak, Korea declaring itself MERS-free will be put back indefinitely. Initially, it had been hoped the country could make that announcement later this month.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said a nurse at Samsung Medical Center (SMC) in Seoul was diagnosed with the disease, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 183.
Another nurse at the hospital also tested positive in a primary test, and the government is now conducting a second test. If the nurse tests positive again, she will be the nation’s 184th case.
Of the total confirmed cases, 88 patients, or 48.1 percent, contracted the virus at SMC.
The government suspects the nurse, 24, was infected with the disease while taking care of seven other MERS patients. She first showed a fever on June 30.
The government is examining exactly how she contracted the virus and what people she contacted after her infection. Her family members have now been put into isolation.
The nurse is the 13th medical staffer at SMC to be infected with the virus. The government found that during the early stages of the outbreak, staffers there did not have proper protective gear when treating MERS patients.
“Epidemiologists are now looking into how the infection took place, investigating whether staffers were not properly equipped with protective gear and if there are any unknown sources of the disease,” a ministry official said.
Including the 13 people working at SMC, 36 of the MERS patients have been medical staffers.
Up until Wednesday, the government was cautiously weighing-up when to declare Korea free from MERS as there had been no new cases for four days since Sunday, especially at Hallym University Kangdong Sacred Heart Hospital in Seoul and Kaiser Rehabilitation Hospital in Guri, Gyeonggi Province ― the feared new epicenters of the disease.
Hopes grew that the government may declare Korea MERS-free as early as July 25 if the situation continued. However, the new outbreak at SMC changed the government’s position.
Ministry officials said they will focus on how the situation develops rather than discussing when to declare an end to the epidemic.
“It is too early to decide when to make such a declaration. We’ll first have to watch how the situation develops,” an official said.
In the meantime, no new deaths were reported, and five patients recovered, raising the total number of recovery to 102 and the ratio of recovery, to 55.7 percent. Some 2,200 are still isolated at their homes or quarantine facilities.