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WHO Says MERS Outbreak a 'Wake-Up Call' as South Korea Reports 20th Death

No vaccine is available for life-threatening viral infection

An outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus infections in South Korea is a “wake-up call,” the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, saying that a lack of knowledge and substandard controls in hospitals had contributed to the spread of the disease.

The WHO urged all countries to be more vigilant as South Korea reported its 20th death from the virus and as criticism grew of its efforts to contain the crisis.

A WHO emergency committee meeting, held June 16, concluded that a lack of awareness about the virus among health workers and the public in South Korea was a major contributing factor to its rapid spread. Others included the fact that MERS patients had been kept in crowded emergency rooms for long periods, and the practice in South Korea of going to multiple hospitals for second and third opinions on diagnoses and treatment — so-called “doctor shopping.”

The custom of many visitors and family members staying with infected patients in their hospital rooms also facilitated the spread of the virus, the committee found.

The virus appeared in South Korea on May 20 when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

South Korea’s health ministry said that a 54-year-old woman who died on June 17 had become the 20th victim of the outbreak. It also reported eight new cases, including four infected at the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, considered the epicenter of the outbreak. That took the total number of infections, including those who have died, to 162 –– the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia.

On June 16, German authorities reported that a national had died after contacting MERS during a trip to Abu Dhabi, but said there was no indication the virus had spread.

There is no vaccine for the MERS virus, which has a mortality rate of 35%, according to the WHO.

Source: Medical Xpress; June 17, 2015.

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