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article imageOne patient was responsible for half of MERS cases

By Tim Sandle     Jul 11, 2016 in Health
In 2015 there was a serious incident of the respiratory viral disease MERS. A review of the cases reveals that almost half of the infections were spread by just one person.
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (MERS‐CoV). The virus was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath; sometimes pneumonia is common, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms. The fatality rate is about 4 in every 10 people infected. There is no specific vaccine or treatment for the disease, although several antiviral medications are currently being studied.
MERS has been detected in 27 countries to date.
The analysis of the South Korean incident reveals that of 190 people infected, 82 of these people became infected from just one patient – known as patient 14. The analysis is important because previous research suggests that the ability of MERS to spread to large numbers of people in a given population is low.
The new epidemiological evidence suggests that, in fact, it is possible to have ‘super-spreaders’; that is, a person who can transmit the disease to a sizeable population.
The 2015 South Korean outbreak was triggered by one person – patient 1 – who travelled to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar between 18 April and 3 May 2015. The patient then returned to his home in South Korea. Before being taken to the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, patient 1 infected a number of other people. One of those infected – patient 14 – has been identified as a ‘super-spreader.’
It is thought patient 14 infected most people at the hospital setting. How this happened has been detected from a retrospective review of closed-circuit cameras and a review of medical records.
Here patient 14 came into contact with 1,576 people and infected 82 of them: 33 patients, 8 health-care workers, and 41 visitors, over a two day period. Statistically, the study has found the risk of infection to patients was 20 percent; to health care workers, 2 percent; and to hospital visitors, 6 percent. People showed symptoms around seven days after infection. They key factor with the infections was ‘crowding’ – the sheer number of people who were in close proximity to patient 14 — indicating the importance of isolation facilities.
The potential risks associated with MERS remain high. The study also indicates that governments and health-care providers should be prepared for such emerging infections.
The findings of the MERS study are published in the medical journal The Lancet. The study is titled “MERS-CoV outbreak following a single patient exposure in an emergency room in South Korea: an epidemiological outbreak study.”
The news has been trending on Twitter. Microbes&Infection (@MicrobesInfect), for example, tweeted: "Study maps transmission of #MERS #coronavirus in South Korean hospital from one 'super-spreader' patient."
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