As of Friday morning, the virus has killed four people, infected 41 and pushed public health officials to quarantine more than 1,600 others.
The numbers are expected to rise as the Seoul municipal government said Thursday that the 35th confirmed patient, a medical doctor, may have exposed 1,500 Seoul residents to MERS.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon claimed that the doctor, who treated the 14th confirmed MERS patient at a large hospital in Seoul on May 27, attended three large-scale health conferences over the weekend while showing symptoms of the virus.
As public fear of MERS reached new heights, the Health Ministry held a press conference Friday morning and revealed the name of the hospital in Pyeongtaek where most of the confirmed patients have been staying as Pyeongtaek St. Mary’s Hospital.
The ministry urged all visitors to the hospital on May 15-29 to report themselves to the authorities. It also said the air-conditioning system of the hospital may have attributed to the spread of MERS.
The ministry rebuked Seoul City’s claim that it was limiting information on the infected doctor, and claimed it has shared all relevant information on the tracking of the medical professional.
According to Mayor Park, the doctor started showing mild symptoms on May 29, but still attended the events in which more than 1,500 people attended despite being advised to stay home and being aware of the possibility of his MERS infection. The mayor claims he was diagnosed with the virus on Monday.
The doctor, however, said he never “treated” the 14th patient, although they were both in the same emergency room for less than an hour on May 27. The doctor in fact treated an embolism patient who later was quarantined after he was placed near the 14th patient at the facility.
The medical professional claimed that he hadn’t even been aware that the 14th MERS patient was in the emergency room with him and his patient on May 27 until May 31.
“I’ve always had chronic rhinitis, so I thought I was having the usual symptoms of the sinus infection until May 30, the day my condition suddenly worsened,” he said in an interview with a local newspaper.
“I learned on May 31 that the patient I treated on May 27 was quarantined for possible MERS infection. As my symptoms also worsened, I reported to the Health Ministry on May 31 and was quarantined at home on the same day.”
The doctor claimed that he was informed about his diagnosis on Tuesday and was placed at a government-certified medical facility.
Meanwhile, all of the newly confirmed cases are believed to be tertiary infection cases.
The fourth death occurred Thursday. The deceased is a 76-year-old who became the third confirmed patient on May 21. He had been suffering from preexisting medical conditions including asthma and cancer before his MERS diagnosis.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)