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    Jun 25, 2015

    S. Korea 'at crossroads' on Mers outbreak


    SOUTH Korea reported yesterday the nation's first Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) case that had occurred outside of hospitals, which may be a sign that community transmission of the disease has taken place in the country.

    The Health Ministry also reported four more cases of Mers, while announcing that it has placed 298 more people under quarantine to prevent possible infection.

    "We are at a crossroads, whether this is going to spread further or not," Kwon Deok Cheol, the Health Ministry's chief policy official, told a news briefing.

    "As of now, we can't answer that part because additional cases have occurred, although we thought until last weekend it had levelled off," he said when asked if there was any change in its earlier view that the outbreak had settled.

    The more guarded assessment came as the government extended the partial shutdown of Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, which had been due to end yesterday. About half of the 179 infections in the country have been traced to the prestigious hospital, including some of this week's new cases.

    As of yesterday afternoon, the virus has killed 27 people and infected 179. No deaths were reported yesterday, although 16 patients are currently in unstable condition. Meanwhile, 13 more patients have been discharged from hospitals, raising the total number of those who have recovered to 67.

    According to the health authorities, the nation's 175th patient is believed to have been infected by his late wife - the 118th patient, who died from Mers on June 13 - while they were at home together.

    His late wife was infected by the 14th patient while caring for her husband, who had been hospitalised at the Good Morning Hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, for pneumonia from May 23 to 29. After being discharged, he and his 67-year-old wife were placed under quarantine together at home until June 10, the day the woman was officially diagnosed with Mers. She died three days later.

    The 175th patient, 75, had been asymptomatic even after his wife's death, but started experiencing fever on June 21. He was officially diagnosed with Mers earlier this week.

    Considering that the maximum incubation period of Mers is 14 days, the Health Ministry said it is most likely that the 175th patient was infected by his late wife at home, not at the hospital in Pyeongtaek.

    While concerns are rising over the possibility of the community transmission of Mers, the World Health Organisation said on Friday that the risk to the general public was low.

    "Even if transmission spills over into the general community, such cases are not likely to sustain further transmission," Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, told reporters in Seoul last week.