The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday described the South Korea Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak as “large and complex” and showing a similar epidemiological pattern to previous hospital-associated MERS-CoV outbreaks in the Middle East, which became “under control” thanks to strong infection control measures.

Maureen Metcalfe; Azaibi Tamin/CDC
Maureen Metcalfe; Azaibi Tamin/CDC

The joint mission by the World Health Organization and the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare made the above conclusions while recommending continued strengthening of contact tracing, monitoring and quarantine as well as expanded laboratory testing will prevent further spread of the virus.

We know that there has been much anxiety about whether the virus in the Republic of Korea has increased its ability to transmit itself between humans,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security who has co-led the mission with Dr Jong-Koo Lee, Director, Center for Global Medicine, Seoul National University. “However, based on available sequencing studies of this virus, it does not appear to have changed to make itself more transmissible.”

The mission confirmed that the virus is currently clustered around health facilities and found no evidence that it was circulating in the community. “However, continued monitoring for this is critical,” says Dr Fukuda.

The large and complex outbreak has grown to 150 cases and 16 deaths, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control today (computer translated).

The Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, host of a good portion of the MERS infections, has partially suspended operations in the facility. The hospital would suspend all non-emergency surgeries and not accept new patients. Samsung Hospital president Song Jae-hoon said no visitors will be allowed, and added that he would decide on June 24 whether to continue the suspension.

In addition, the VOA reports on a potential situation in Slovakia:

“We were alerted to the situation [South Korean national in Bratislava, Slovakia, who is suspected of carrying MERS] and we are still in the process of finding out what happened. There are focal points, such as the WHO (World Health Organization), which are designated in other countries. We will try to find out what really happened by sharing information through these focal points,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lastly, news reports from South Korea (computer translated) say health practitioners are attempting the use convalescent serum collected from recovered MERS cases to treat severely ill patients.