The MERS virus already killed two people in South Korea on Tuesday. The country confirms five more cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus with 30 people already infected since it came to the country two weeks earlier.
The MERS-caused deaths fueled fear in South Korea, where the virus struck most aside from its origin. South Koreans have now isolated around 1,300 people for possible infection of the virus. The first death occurred on Monday in Gyeonggi province. The education ministry reports more than 200 schools were shut down for the week in that province.
The five reported cases include a 60-year-old man who received the virus from an infected person, while the other four were in the same hospital as the first patient; the suspected carrier of the virus who returned to South Korea after travelling in the Middle East. The epidemic in South Korea brings the virus data to a global number of 1,166 on WHO data, which has at least 436 related deaths.
MERS or MERS Corona Virus was first detected in the Middle East with beliefs that the sources of infection are camels. The virus can spread from one person to another. Fever, breath shortness or difficulty and cough are among its common symptoms.
MERS belongs to the same family as the common cold. It is considered the less infectious, but deadlier cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, which appeared in Asia in 2003, claiming hundreds of lives. As per information from the World Health Organization, MERS can lead to pneumonia or respiratory failure. The virus has, so far, no available vaccine or cure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus behaves like a cold, attacking the respiratory system. However, cough and fever symptoms will become severe and will lead to kidney failure or pneumonia. One gets infected if in close contact with a MERS patient, such as caring for him.
The MERS outbreak, which already killed two in South Korea, shocked many since the virus has not shown to be an easy spread between humans. Secondly, the country is considered to have a modern and sophisticated health care system.
It started in South Korea with the first patient, a 68-year-old man who visited four Middle East countries and went home on May 4. Symptoms did not arise during his flight home. However, he became ill a week after and went to two clinics and two hospitals for treatment. According to WHO, since MERS was not suspected, the patient was not put in isolation; as such other patients and health care staff became exposed.
There are no trade or travel restrictions for South Korea by WHO though the country’s authorities ban overseas travel for those who are, according to a health ministry official. The South Korean government is now pressured to identify which hospitals treat the infected patients as confusion and fear are mounting.
While the country’s health authorities prefer to keep the names of the hospitals, the public is demanding the government identify them. Ian Jones, specialist virologist and virus follower from Britain University of Reading, said that transparency of the cases, conditions and locations are best for controlling the outbreak, even if this causes short-term alarms.
With two deaths and more people getting infected, the virus triggers fear among South Koreans, who are already wearing masks in public places to prevent the virus from spreading. Schools are holding special classes to teach children how to prevent the spread of MERS.
South Korea President Park Geun-Hye conducted an emergency meeting amidst the WHO prediction of more infections and the government being on fire for its initial response to the virus. The President’s meeting with medical experts and top health officials was about how to come up with a comprehensive quarantine strategy.
As MERS has already killed two people in South Korea and with new infections coming out, urban residents continue to use hand sanitizers and wear masks. Several public events were cancelled. Suggestions regarding spread prevention include avoiding personal contact with the sick, and maintaining proper hygiene, such as washing of hands and covering sneezes and coughs.
By Judith Aparri
Aljazeera: South Korea confirms five new MERS virus cases
ABC: MERS virus forces South Korean schools to close as panic spreads
CNN: South Korea grapples to contain MERS as 1,364 in quarantine
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