Over 70 Mers cases traced to Seoul hospital
A SOUTH Korean hospital suspended most services yesterday after being identified as the epicentre of the spread of a deadly respiratory disease that has killed 15 people since being diagnosed in the country nearly four weeks ago.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called an emergency meeting tomorrow on South Korea's "large and complex" outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), the biggest outside Saudi Arabia, where it was first identified in humans in 2012.
South Korea's Ministry of Health reported seven new cases yesterday, taking the total to 145, as a 15th person died. Those who died were all elderly or people with existing ailments, said Reuters
The latest fatality from Mers was a 62-year-old man who died yesterday afternoon in Busan, a city official said. He was diagnosed on June 7 after being infected in Seoul's Samsung Medical Centre, Agence France-Presse reported.
The centre, a prominent hospital in the capital, said it was suspending all non-emergency surgery and would take no new patients to focus on stopping Mers after more than 70 cases were traced to it.
Its tally has surpassed the number at a hospital in Pyeongtaek, where the first patient sought treatment.
The hospital's move also came after the authorities confirmed that an emergency worker who transferred patients to the hospital was infected with Mers.
The 55-year-old was suspected of having been infected by the 14th patient, who is considered the "super spreader" for spreading the virus to more than 70 people, the Korea Herald reported.
The health authorities also found that the ambulance worker came into contact with over 400 people in nine days, despite having some symptoms, and immediately isolated 160 people who came in close contact with him.
Others are being tracked, the officials said. They said the worker was also found to have worn a mask but did not wear protective gloves while transferring the patients.
Although he had come into contact with the 14th patient, he was not put on the monitoring list, the authorities added, saying that the watch list was limited to those working inside the emergency room.
Meanwhile, another doctor at Samsung Medical Centre was confirmed to be infected, after being exposed to the 14th patient late last month. He became the second medical professional of the hospital to be infected with the virus after the 35th patient.
Despite the exposure to the "super spreader", the infected doctor was not isolated and continued his work at the hospital, the ministry said.
The doctor has been isolated since last Wednesday, when he had a fever. The ministry is attempting to track those who were exposed to the doctor.
"We apologise for causing great concern as Samsung Medical Centre became the centre of the spread of Mers," the hospital's president, Song Jae Hoon, told a news conference.
"This is entirely our responsibility and failing as we did not properly manage emergency-room staff."
The authorities have sealed off at least two other hospitals with patients and medical workers inside, and about 4,856 people are in quarantine, either at home or in medical facilities.