Intensified public health measures help control MERS-CoV outbreak in the Republic of Korea

Web update

The Republic of Korea's Minister of Health and Welfare, Moon Hyungpyo, and Dr Keiji Fukuda, World Health Organization Assistant Director General, Health Security

Intensified public health measures, including contact tracing, quarantine and isolation of all contacts and suspected cases, and infection prevention and control have brought the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) under control in the Republic of Korea. Since 4 July no new cases have been reported. Yesterday, all remaining contacts were released from quarantine symptom-free, following 14 days of isolation and monitoring.

“In the face of a newly emerging disease like MERS-CoV, the first challenge is always recognizing it,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Continued vigilance for any new cases of MERS-CoV through an early detection and rapid response system in particular, is highly recommended. Health-care workers should continue to practice stringent infection prevention and control measures when treating patients to protect themselves and others. This includes handwashing before and after consultation with each patient and wearing a medical mask, eye protection, gown and gloves when treating probable or confirmed MERS-CoV cases. Health-care workers should take the travel history of people presenting with symptoms of MERS-CoV.

“In our interconnected world, pathogens can travel rapidly, and outbreaks can occur in unexpected places” said Dr Shin. “All countries in WHO’s Western Pacific Region must remain alert for the possibility of an imported case of MERS-CoV and any other infectious disease and be ready to respond swiftly and efficiently.”

The outbreak, which began in May 2015 through the importation of a single case via a traveller from the Middle East, has remained confined to health-care facilities. There has been no evidence of airborne transmission and sustained human-to-human transmission in communities. Since the start of the outbreak 186 confirmed cases of MERS-CoV have been reported (including one confirmed case in China), with 36 related deaths. The virus was first identified in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012 and camels are likely to be a major reservoir host for MERS-CoV. However, the exact role of camels in transmission of the virus and the exact route(s) of transmission are unknown. Globally, since September 2012, WHO has been notified of 1374 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including at least 490 related deaths.