The deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome continues to rapidly spread across the world on Monday, as South Korean health officials quarantined nearly 700 people in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly virus after 18 people became infected over the past 10 days.
South Korean health officials have been on high alert since May 20th when a 68-year-old man from Bahrain tested positive. Since then, the virus has spread rapidly to a number of patients and visitors to the hospital where he was treated, causing global concern about whether the virus had mutated or whether other factors may have been at play. The transmission rate in South Korea so far is vastly higher than in other countries, prompting the fear of a mutation.
MERS is related to the one that infected thousands during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. There is no known cure or vaccine.
"We must find the reason for the high rate of transmission unlike in the cases of other countries," President Park Geun-hye said on Monday.
The 682 who were placed into isolation on Monday are family members, medical staff and others who had close contact with the man. They are residing in their homes or in state-run facilities and will likely be subjected to a travel ban.
While first reported in 2012, MERS has been mostly confined to Saudi Arabia, the United Emirates and Jordan. The World Health Organization reports that 1,150 cases have been reported and 427 of the patients have died in that time. While not a large number of cases, the fatality rate is shockingly high.
The WHO announced the following updates in the two most recent cases:
The case is a 35-year-old male who developed symptoms of cough, sputum and fever on 6 May and was admitted to hospital on 13 May. The patient has been on tuberculosis medication since his son was diagnosed with the bacterial disease in April. Between 15 and 17, he shared the same ward with the first case during his hospitalization from 15 to 17 May. On 20 May, after his discharge, the patient visited two different hospitals due to fever and was put on antibiotics. As symptoms persisted despite antibiotic therapy, he was admitted to a hospital again on 27 May and confirmed positive for MERS-CoV on 29 May. The case is a 35 year-old male whose mother shared the same ward with the first case. From 15 to 21 May, the patient visited his mother every day at the hospital. He developed symptoms and visited an emergency room on 24 May. The patient was admitted to hospital between 25 and 27 May and confirmed positive for MERS-CoV on 30 May.