How a 68-Year-Old Threw South Korea Into a Panic

95 MERS cases traced to man who visited Middle East
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2015 6:03 AM CDT
How a 68-Year-Old Threw South Korea Into a Panic
In this Saturday, June 6, 2015, file photo, South Korean soldiers wear masks as a precaution against MERS virus in Seoul.   (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

When a 68-year-old man visited a clinic in Asan, South Korea, on May 12, and again two and three days later, doctors were stumped by his coughing and wheezing. He was referred to a larger hospital in Pyeongtaek, then a smaller one in Seoul before X-rays on May 17 suggested he had pneumonia, reports the New York Times. Still, he was referred once more to one of the country's largest hospitals, the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul. There, doctors learned he hadn't just visited Bahrain on a recent trip as he had previously disclosed, but also the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports. (The patient's wife says he had trouble communicating with a high fever.) A test confirmed on May 20 he had the highly contagious MERS virus. Since then, 37 people at the Pyeongtaek hospital have tested positive. "It must have been a period when the virus was most active in him and he was coughing out a lot of virus droplets," a doctor says of the man considered the first patient in South Korea's outbreak.

One of the sick from Pyeongtaek spent days in the Samsung Medical Center's ER, where another 35 were infected. South Korea has so far identified 95 total cases at 29 hospitals, including eight new cases today, reports Yonhap News. Seven have died, though all had preexisting health issues. Almost 3,000 are under quarantine, including 700 who were in the crowded Samsung Medical Center ER when the carrier arrived, while 2,200 schools have been closed, the AP reports. Authorities, however, say the virus may have peaked. Its incubation period—between five and 14 days—for the first patient has ended, meaning no other cases should arise in connection with that patient. The incubation period for the other carriers ends around Friday. "This week may be very crucial to overcoming MERS," the prime minister says. "The government will mobilize all available resources and necessary budget to help eradicate the disease." (More MERS stories.)

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