MERS Outbreak May Have Peaked In South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea believes its MERS virus outbreak may have peaked, and experts say the next several days will be critical to determining whether the government’s belated efforts have successfully stymied a disease that has killed seven people and infected nearly 100 in the country.

The biggest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outside the region where it was first seen in 2012 was introduced to South Korea last month by a 68-year-old man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia and other nearby countries.

When he got sick after his return to South Korea, he visited several hospitals and clinics, where dozens of other patients and hospital workers were infected before officials found he had MERS. Gradually, the government began isolating victims and quarantining those who’d had contact with them.

There has been widespread fear here of the poorly understood disease, which has no vaccine and as much as a 40 percent mortality rate. There also had been growing criticism over failures by health workers and the government to initially recognize and quickly contain the disease.

Nearly 3,000 people have been placed in isolation and 2,200 schools closed in South Korea. Although MERS spreads through close contact with sick people, not through the air, many people here have avoided going to crowded places like baseball parks and movie theaters. Travel agencies report a sharp increase in the number of foreigners canceling plans to visit South Korea.

The outbreak, however, has so far been contained in hospitals and there’s no evidence, the U.N. health agency says, of “sustained transmission in the community.”

Authorities say the first MERS patient didn’t reveal his Saudi Arabia trip to doctors until he arrived at the Seoul-based Samsung Medical Center after being treated at three other hospitals, including St. Mary’s Hospital in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. Samsung and —> Read More