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MERS panic has hit South Korea as 540 schools are closed and over 1300 residents find themselves in an imposed quarantine. With suspected cases at approximately 400, South Korean officials have been forced to take extreme measures in a rush to prevent the deadly virus spreading.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS, is a viral respiratory illness that is relatively new to humans. First reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, many of those infected suffer from fevers and acute breathing problems, including coughing and shortness of breath. Contagious and incurable, the virus is in the same family as SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and the common cold, but experts claim it does not spread as easily. The mortality rate, however, is high at 41 percent, although reports recently revealed that Saudi Arabia may not have accurately reported the true number of exposures in its country to the world health authorities. The omission of over 100 cases makes data on the disease unreliable.
As yet the cause of MERS is unknown, but theories abound regarding the connection to the Middle East’s use of camels and a possible cross over contamination between the animals and humans. With 25 countries to date reporting cases of MERS on their home soil, the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America among them, research and a quick response may be the only way to prevent a worldwide epidemic. In a report written in August 2014 by Hamid Y Hussain of the Preventive Services Centre within the Dubai Health Authority, Hussain claimed MERS was ‘taking propagating epidemic curve and trending towards more spreading and adding more and more cases’. He advised further studies to answer why the disease was growing and circulating ‘in spite of all advanced preventive and control measures applied so far’. The report also mentioned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were working with global partners to ‘better understand the risks of this virus, including the source, how it spreads, and how infections might be prevented.’
In South Korea, residents try not to panic as government officials impose quarantine on high risk residents and the Education Minister, Hwang Woo-yeo, closes down schools in order to control the spread of the disease. Speaking about the closures, Hwang Woo-yeo said, “After a discussion with superintendents from four local education offices, the education ministry and education offices will take thorough preventive measures”. The ministry confirmed that although no students or teachers had been struck down by the disease, some had been placed in quarantine. The majority of schools closed are in the Gyeonggi district around the country’s capital, Seoul, where the first reported death in South Korea was reported on June 1st.
Although some critics claim President Park Geun-hye was not quick enough in her reaction to the outbreak, she has established a task force to oversee the containment of the illness and monitor its spread. Speaking on Wednesday, June 3rd, Park Guen-hye told an emergency meeting of health officials, “We must make the utmost effort to stop MERS from spreading,” adding, “There are a lot of people worried about this disease.” As the concern over MERS circulates worldwide, South Korea can only hope that the imposed quarantine and closure of schools is enough to prevent panic and further spread of the deadly disease.
By Alison Klippenstein
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
Omicsonline: Incidence and Mortality Rate of “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome”-Corona Virus (MERS-Cov), Threatens and Opportunities
CNN: South Korea grapples to contain MERS as 1,369 in quarantine
IBTimes: South Korea MERS outbreak: Over 200 schools cancel classes
Washington Post: South Korea quarantines more than 1,300 in race against MERS
Photo Courtesy of Katie Chao and Ben Muessig’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Photo Courtesy of Arthur Chapman’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License