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16th coronavirus patient not flagged for 10 days despite symptoms

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Concerns about the new coronavirus are growing as news emerged that the 42-year-old South Korean woman at the center of Korea’s 16th confirmed case was not flagged as a possible carrier for a full 10 days, despite having symptoms after a trip to Thailand.

The woman was not placed under observation for signs of the new respiratory disease because she had no record of visiting China.

Medical institutions are currently providing treatment for those who show symptoms such as cough or fever within 14 days of visiting China’s Hubei province. They are also treating those who exhibit signs of pneumonia on X-ray examinations within 14 days of visiting China.

This is because health authorities have limited the information provided to medical institutions for the purpose of controlling the spread of the new coronavirus, disclosing only records concerning patients’ visits to China.

The 16th patient began to show symptoms such as fever and chills on Jan. 25 after returning from Thailand on Jan. 19.

She visited Gwangju 21st Century Hospital on Jan. 27 but was not immediately suspected of having come in contact with the virus, which is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

She was referred to Chonnam National University Hospital later in the day, where she got an X-ray examination and blood tests. Because the test results were normal, she returned home with only medication for pneumonia.

According to the university hospital staff, they asked the local health center whether she should be tested for the new coronavirus, and was told it was unnecessary since she hadn’t visited China.

The woman also had underlying lung problems, which made the matter more complicated.

However, when her condition did not improve, she was hospitalized at the Gwangju 21st Century Hospital for seven days beginning Jan. 28.

On Feb. 3, her shortness of breath and pneumonia symptoms worsened, and she was moved to the emergency room at Chonnam National University Hospital and placed under quarantine.

Her coronavirus-positive status was confirmed the next day.

The fact that the 16th patient was hospitalized for a week also raises concerns about the possibility that some patients may be able to transmit the disease much more readily than others, and to many more people.

During the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2015, a single “super-spreader” in an overcrowded emergency room spread the virus to 82 people in Korea.

The new coronavirus is transmitted through airborne droplets of bodily fluids such as respiratory secretions. It can also be spread during artificial respiration or airway intubation at hospitals.

In light of these concerns, the Gwangju 21st Century Hospital has temporarily closed and its inpatients are in isolation.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they will conduct an epidemiologic investigation to determine how the 16th patient was infected.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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