Numerous cases of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) have occurred in Seoul. The disease is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms. While that sounds like a bad cold or flu, MERS can be much more serious.
The index case in S. Korea was a man who had spent time in the Middle East. He was healthy when he returned to Seoul, but became ill. The usual incubation period for MERS is 5 to 6 days, but it can be longer. He visited several health care facilities before being diagnosed and isolated.
Most of the cases that S. Korea is dealing with stem from contact with the index case. Victims may have shared the same hospital room, they may be members of family who visited, and health care workers. There are cases that cannot be attributed to that close contact which has health care workers concerned.
Two people have died in S. Korea. More than 1000 people are now quarantined. Those in charge of containing the disease have received criticism for not ensuring that more people were placed in isolation earlier. The authorities are taking rigorous measures now. Schools near hospitals treating MERS patients have been closed. One hospital has been completely shut to visitors and staff exposed to ill people have been put in quarantine.
One man from Korea has created an international incident by breaking quarantine and travelling to China. In the course of his travels to Hong Kong and the PRC he exposed hundreds of people to the virus.
According to the CDC, three to four people out of ten who develop MERS will die from it. Those most likely to develop acute symptoms are those in already vulnerable health.
MERS was first diagnosed in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Most cases have occurred in nine neighbouring countries. Travellers to the Middle East have sometimes become infected and at last count, 16 other countries have diagnosed the illness from returning people.
It has remained somewhat of a mystery, but was linked to contact with camels. Camels can harbour the virus. They may not show any illness while remaining infectious.
The CDC has some advice for those who may be considering travel to the Saudi Peninsula.
Avoid contact with camels Do not drink raw camel milk or raw camel urine Do not eat undercooked meat, particularly camel meat CDC