South Korea Begins Experimental Treatment as MERS Claims 19th Victim

South Korea Reports Eighth MERS Death
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Healthcare workers in South Korea have begun experimental trials of a plasma treatment they think might help the fight against MERS. Health officials also announced a nineteenth death due to the disease.

The plasma treatment South Korean doctors are trying has previously helped stem the tide of epidemics elsewhere in the world, including in the fight against the Ebola virus in Africa.

The MERS situation is looking up for South Korea. Kwon Jun-Wook, the head of the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare’s MERS response team, told media that there is reason to believe that the pandemic may end soon.

“At this point, everything is under control, and if another cluster does not occur, the final date will be July 27,” Kwon said.

Over 150 have been diagnosed with the virus, but the rate of infection seems to be slowing. The only new cases are amongst those who are already in quarantine.

In addition, South Korean officials are reporting a fatality rate of about ten percent, which is significantly lower than the 30-40 percent fatality rate in the Middle East, where the virus originated.

Representatives from the World Health Organization, who were sent to oversee the public health response, say that MERS “does not appear to have changed to make itself more transmissible.”

MERS is an acronym which stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome. The virus attacks a victim’s lungs and breathing tubes, often causing complications which may lead to death. Scientists say that MERS is transmitted by coming in close contact with someone who has been infected.

The disease was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. From there, it spread throughout the Middle East, where it killed thousands due to inadequate medical infrastructure.

The first Korean patient, a 68-year-old man, was infected with the virus on a trip to the Middle East.

Thus far, there have been only three positively-identified cases of MERS in the United States, all in 2014. Two occurred in health workers who had traveled to the Middle East, and the third case was retroactively identified in an Illinois businessman through blood tests.

Many Americans have been cancelling trips to South Korea in recent days, due to fears of contracting the deadly virus. Health experts say that any panic over MERS among Americans is unnecessary.

“You’re not going to get it. Go about your business. Eat Korean food. Visit Korea,” Laurene Mascola, an expert on pandemics from Los Angeles, said.

Because MERS is spread through close contact with the infected, and American tourists and businesspeople would have no real way or reason to come in contact with the quarantined, the chances of MERS spreading to the United States is negligible.


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