SEOUL — Infections with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) increased to 145 Sunday as seven more cases were added, while the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul decided to suspend operations on worries about further MERS spread within the hospital.
Among the new cases were four patients contracting the virus at the Samsung hospital in the central Gangnam district of Seoul after having contact with the 14th infectee, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Among the four, the 141st male patient, 42, caught the virus after accompanying an outpatient to the hospital. It was the second case infected outside of the emergency room of the Samsung hospital.
The total number infected at the Samsung hospital soared to 72. Excluding the two cases, all took the virus at the emergency room. Concerns emerged that the virus may have broadly transmitted beyond the emergency room.
The Samsung hospital decided Saturday to temporarily stop operations, including outpatient treatment and new hospitalization, after belatedly finding that one hospital staff for patient transportation and one security staff were confirmed positive for the MERS.
The patient transporter, 55, had done his job at the hospital for nine days after showing MERS symptoms, fueling worries that the 137th male patient could have become a new “super spreader.” He caught the virus after having been exposed to the 14th patient, the second super spreader following the patient zero.
The 138th patient, tested positive on Saturday, was belatedly found to be a Samsung hospital doctor who treated patients until June 10 when the doctor was put under quarantine. The doctor could have infected many patients while treating them. The health authorities had yet to figure out how many people the doctor had contact with.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon held a meeting for the MERS management, urging the central government to rapidly control the Samsung hospital directly. Park said that Samsung had been actually excluded from the government’s quarantine network and that the exclusion resulted in such a disaster.
Authorities given to the Samsung hospital to control the disease spread within the hospital should be transferred to the central and city governments, the Seoul mayor said, demanding the rapid forming of a public-private team to look into Samsung cases.
The Samsung hospital, affiliated with the country’s largest conglomerate Samsung Group, said that it will suspend operations by June 24, the day about two weeks after the patient transporter was tested positive on June 12. The MERS virus has an incubation period of as long as two weeks.
Excluding emergency surgeries and the treatment of suspected MERS infectees, all operations will be stopped, the hospital said. The decision on the resumption of the operations will be made later in accordance with situations.
Meanwhile, the 145th male patient, 37, was tested positive after accompanying the 76th patient as rescuer in the ambulance. The ambulance driver was confirmed positive Saturday.
One more case was discovered each at the Daecheong Hospital in the central city of Daejeon and the Hallym University Medical Center in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. The cases were all exposed to the MERS virus within hospitals.
The 143rd patient infected at the Daecheong hospital moved to the southern port city of Busan under suspicions of MERS contagion, having contact with more than 700 people and raising fears for further spread in the city.
The number of South Koreans quarantined as potential carriers surged to 4,856 on Sunday, up 842 from Saturday. Most of the daily increase came from the 143rd patient.
Among the total number of those put under quarantine were 2,473 people freed from the isolation as the latent period of two weeks have passed.
One more death was reported Sunday, bringing the death toll to 15. The 81st patient, 61, was the first infectee in Busan who was exposed to the 14th patient at the Samsung hospital while visiting his relative hospitalized there.
Among the confirmed cases, 16 patients have been in serious conditions, and 10 people have been discharged from hospitals.
Story from Xinhua.
Joel Selanikio on MERS virus
For more on MERS virus, CCTV-America spoke to Joel Selanikio. He is a physician who leads a company that specializes in healthcare technology.
Joel Selanikio on MERS virusFor more on MERS virus, CCTV-America spoke to Joel Selanikio. He is a physician who leads a company that specializes in healthcare technology.