S Korea reports 15th MERS death

THE MERS virus in South Korea, which has killed 14 people and infected nearly 140 in the largest outbreak outside the Middle East, hasn’t spread outside hospitals into the wider community or become easier to transmit between humans, the World Health Organisation said.

AFTER a weeklong review the WHO experts said there was no evidence suggesting the virus, currently confined around health facilities, is spreading. It has been occurring among hospital patients, visiting family members and medical staff.

Overcrowded emergency rooms and hospital wards might have contributed to a wider-than-expected transmission of the virus, which usually spreads poorly between people, said WHO Assistant Director Keiji Fukuda. South Korea’s habits of “doctor shopping” – visiting multiple facilities to treat the same infection – and having many friends and family members visiting hospitalised patients also might have contributed, he said. The continued discovery of new cases – including 12 on Saturday – has created an impression that the outbreak is getting bigger. But Fukuda noted that many of the cases being reported involved people who already had been infected. New infections appear to be declining, which suggests that the government’s control measures are having an impact, he said. “Now, because the outbreak has been large and is complex, more cases should be anticipated,” he said. The virus has spread at a pattern similar to previous outbreaks in the Middle East, and the sequencing studies of samples from South Korea show no signs that the virus has increased its ability to transmit between humans, he said. While the infections seem to be stagnating, Fukuda called on the South Korean government to continue with strong control measures, including tracing patients’ contacts and preventing suspected cases from travelling.