South Korea's MERS Outbreak Should Be a Wake-Up Call for the World: WHO Expert

By Branswell, Helen | The Canadian Press, June 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

South Korea's MERS Outbreak Should Be a Wake-Up Call for the World: WHO Expert


Branswell, Helen, The Canadian Press


Korea's MERS outbreak a wake-up call: WHO

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TORONTO - South Korea's burgeoning MERS outbreak should be a reminder to the world that a virus some may have written off can trigger significant disease and major disruption, a World Health Organization expert says.

The outbreak in that country has now infected 126 people, 11 of whom have died. And it may be a while yet before South Korea's health officials manage to stop spread of the virus, said Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO's point person for Middle East respiratory syndrome or MERS.

Two hospitals have been closed, several thousand people have been ordered into quarantine and tourists are reportedly cancelling trips to the country.

The unexpected outbreak and the reaction to it is highly reminiscent of the 2003 SARS outbreak, also caused by a coronavirus. And the WHO is hoping countries that may have grown complacent about MERS are taking note.

"It should be a wake-up call for all those who didn't believe MERS could move seriously outside of the Middle East," said Ben Embarek of the virus, which has until now has done most of its damage on the Arabian Peninsula.

The outbreak should inspire countries to boost their efforts to spot imported cases, such as the one that touched off the South Korean outbreak, as well as prepare for what they would do if a MERS patient arrived in their health-care systems, he suggested.

"I think the first lesson from the Korea event, whatever happens there, is that the source (of MERS) is still in the Middle East and the same source could create similar events in any other countries in the world tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

In South Korea, a businessman who travelled to four Middle East countries got sick after his return in early May. He sought care at four health facilities before he was diagnosed with the disease. In the 10 days between the onset of his illness and his diagnosis and isolation, he infected more than two dozen people.

Investigations so far suggest aspects of Korean health-care created an ideal environment for the virus to spread.

Crowded emergency departments. A tradition of doctor shopping -- it is not uncommon to seek more than one medical opinion. …

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