MERS confirmed at Asan Medical Center

By: Kim Rahn

A Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) case has been confirmed at Asan Medical Center in eastern Seoul, the nation’s largest general hospital.

This is fueling concerns over a possible wider spread of the disease, although three patients have so far recovered and been released from quarantine facilities.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 95 MERS cases were confirmed as of Tuesday, seven of whom have died. A pregnant woman was also diagnosed for the first time, while a third confirmed patient recovered and was released.

The ministry found a 27-year-old security guard at Asan Medical Center was infected with the disease on May 26 when the nation’s sixth MERS patient visited the hospital’s emergency room. The sixth patient was diagnosed with the disease at another hospital two days later, and died on June 1.

Based on surveillance camera recordings, the hospital said the sixth patient stayed in the emergency room for 28 minutes, so it means the security guard contracted the virus from him during that short encounter.

“The security guard went home on May 26, and has been ordered to stay at home since May 28 after the sixth patient was confirmed,” a hospital official said. “He did not show any symptoms until Monday morning, a day before the stay-at-home order was lifted.”

Considering people from all over the country come to Asan Medical Center, concerns are rising that the hospital may become the third epicenter of the disease, following the first, Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital in Gyeonggi Province, and the second, Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul, with 37 cases each.

But the ministry said a large number of cases from the hospital are unlikely, considering the 14-day incubation period of the virus from May 26, the day of the sixth patient’s visit, ended Tuesday.

“The security guard did not show any symptoms through Monday, so we think he did not spread the disease to others as the virus is transmitted when symptoms show,” a ministry official said.

Among eight additional cases confirmed Tuesday, three were from Samsung Medical Center. The number from the hospital slowed down significantly, considering 17 new cases were found there the previous day.

Of the eight, one was confirmed at Yeouido St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul and two at Hallyum University Dongtan Sacred Heart Hospital in Gyeonggi Province, where no cases had been confirmed before.

The ministry is checking which hospitals the new patients had visited before being diagnosed with MERS and issuing orders to stay at home to people who had possible contact with them.

Nearly 2,890 people have been isolated at government-designated facilities or their homes, the ministry said. It added it would monitor all pneumonia patients in Seoul, Daejeon, Gyeonggi Province and Asan in South Chungcheong Province, as many symptoms of the two diseases are similar.

In the meantime, the 18th patient, who was confirmed on May 31, has recovered and tested negative, so was released from a quarantine facility.

The ministry will open a website carrying information about the disease Wednesday at