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Woman dies of mystery virus

Fears rise over possibility of the deadly disease afflicting pregnant women


A 36-year-old woman who had recently given birth died of complications from an unidentified virus Tuesday at a Seoul hospital, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

This is the first fatality reported from the pneumonia-causing virus and authorities are still struggling to trace its origin and find treatment.

The victim was among eight patients who checked into the intensive care unit of a large hospital in Seoul last month for infection with an unknown virus. She was initially diagnosed with tuberculosis and was medicated but soon showed signs of cerebral hemorrhage and rapidly developing-idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

She was nine months pregnant when admitted and had to have labor induced so that she could continue taking medication that could have been fatal to the unborn child.

The authorities are focusing on verifying the origin of the virus by studying the specimen taken from the patient and conducting genetic analysis on it.

“The results are expected to come Thursday but the genetic test will take more than eight weeks, which means that more time is needed,” Yang Byoung-goog, a KCDC official, said. “The virus we have extracted from the specimen was more of an ordinary flu virus. However, we need to look closer into what has caused pulmonary fibrosis.”

Fears are growing despite the government’s efforts, especially among pregnant women: Of the seven hospitalized patients, six of them were pregnant or recently had been pregnant.

Experts say the families of the remaining six patients are also under extreme stress. “According to reports, about 1.51 out of every 1,000 pregnant women suffers from pneumonia. In more than 30 percent of cases, the cause is not identified,” Yang said. “I advise people not to panic: Three of the seven patients are showing signs of recovery.”

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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