MERS Outbreak in South Korea Hits Record High, 3 New Cases, 2 More Die

who says south koreas mers outbreak large and complex, photo courtesy of ritika patel

who says south koreas mers outbreak large and complex, photo courtesy of ritika patel

SOUTH KOREA - An outbreak of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in South Korea has led to 138 confirmed cases and 14 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Just 17 hours ago news outlets reported 3 new cases with 2 more deaths.

A single traveler brought the disease to South Korea last month and since then it has spread exponentially overwhelming the healthcare system. Contributing factors include overcrowded emergency rooms, the sick and worried returning numerous times to hospitals, additional delays as medical professionals seek second opinions, coupled with an ill-trained medical community unfamiliar with the disease.

Currently, all cases have occurred have been traced back to a hospital where patient zero contracted the disease. Many citizens have started wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from infection. However, the larger community isn't taking any chances either and have subsequently closed more than 2,900 schools and quarantined 3,680 people. (Source: BBC).

An early setback has been a lack of government transparency. President Park Geun-hye has been accused of not being pro-active in his response and of withholding information about who has been infected. The mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, said that a now quarantined doctor attended a gathering of more than 1,500 people the day before he was diagnosed with the disease. (Source: New York Times)

However, the WHO has issued a statement that human-to-human transmission of the virus is only possible through very close contact. As long as reasonable measures are taken there is no need for panic. Currently, the WHO is working with scientists to better understand the disease, develop treatment strategies, and determine the best way to respond to the outbreak.

Although the disease is not well understood and has no cure, the spread of it has thus far been predictable. Most contagious diseases are opportunistic and are most easily incubated and spread in hospitals and other healthcare facilities due to close proximity of the infected. Although doctors and scientists are struggling to find a way to treat the infected, predictive and statistical models have proved invaluable in anticipating what part of the population is at greatest risks and thus help communities implement proactive precautions.

The disease originated in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there is currently no vaccine to prevent MERS-CoV infection, but the South Korea outbreak is the largest outbreak outside of the Middle East. “MERS-CoV is thought to spread from an infected person to others through respiratory secretions, such as coughing. In other countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. (Source: CDC)

Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski
Facebook: Sarah Joanne Jakubowski

Captain Abandonned Ship, Leaves Hundreds of Children to Die


Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 23:38 p.m. DST, 23 April 2014

Nearly 300 missing as ferry carrying school children sinks off South Koream, Photo Collage by Gullpress WNAJINDO COUNTY, South Korea - Efforts once aimed at rescuing passengers aboard the downed Sewol ferry have transformed into a labored search to recover the bodies still aboard the small ship.

174 people were saved during the disaster last Wednesday, 16 April 2014, in part because of S.O.S. phone call from a young student. Despite the number rescued, over 300 are presumed dead.

The death toll increases by the hour. In the last few days divers have discovered multiple routes to high capacity rooms such as the cafeteria. They are now able to transport greater numbers of victims to the nearby Jindo island. Here, families and friends of the missing have assembled to wait for any news.

The majority of travelers were students from Danwon High School, destined for Jeju City on a field trip. At least 325 students and 15 teachers were housed in various quarters in the upper levels of the ferry. Most are still missing and presumed dead.

At about 9:30 Wednesday morning, the unsteady boat become deadly, tilting at a severe angle. Soon, passengers reached out to loved ones in grave text messages and phone calls. All the while, they were ordered to stay put. The children were separated throughout the ship, primarily in the cafeteria, which was centrally located in the heart of the craft.

In the week since the tragedy, the grieving process has taken many forms. Initial hope that those trapped throughout the vessel could have ample air pockets kept many optimistic. As time passed and the rescue proved slow and difficult, families have been outspoken in their criticism of the emergency response.

The cause of the accident is still unknown, but collected evidence helps to explain potential problems during those fateful morning hours. For one, Captain Lee Jun-Seok was not at the controls when the ship began to sway. Against all moral and legal justification, he was one of the first to leave the rocky vessel.

President Park Geun-hye was quick to admonish the Captain, who has been arrested along with six of his crew. While his actions are certainly reprehensible and his failure to evacuate the ship exacerbated the crisis, he is not alone in his guilt.

Allegedly, the Cheonghaejin Marine Company pressured the crew to sail in unfavorable weather conditions, and likely misrepresented the amount of cargo stored in the body of the ferry. Additionally, the life boats aboard the Sewol were unfit for use, calling the company, the national inspection system and the government itself into question. The investigation is ongoing. 

While these claims do not clear the Captain of his wrongdoings, they do suggest the issue is bigger than just one man, or seven crew members. This tragedy could have been prevented at many stages, even before the ship set sail. Even so, the decision to keep the passengers inside the ship was ultimately the Captain's. And, so were his efforts to flee.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom