Korean officer tests positive for MERS at Osan Air Base

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Traffic moves in and out of the main gate at Osan Air Base, South Korea, in this undated file photo.  Franklin Fisher/Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
Traffic moves in and out of the main gate at Osan Air Base, South Korea, in this undated file photo. Franklin Fisher/Stars and Stripes

Korean officer tests positive for MERS at Osan Air Base

by: Ashley Rowland | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: June 04, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean air force officer stationed at Osan Air Base is under isolation at a military hospital after testing positive for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, according to media reports.

However, the military member is not showing symptoms of the illness, such as fever or cough, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to determine as early as Thursday if he has been infected.

Thirty-five South Koreans have been diagnosed with MERS since May 20, and two have died. Yonhap reported some 1,300 people are under isolation at medical facilities or their homes with suspected cases of the disease, which was discovered in 2012 and is transmitted through prolonged contact.

Col. Brook Leonard, commander of the 51st Fighter Wing, acknowledged in a post on the wing’s Facebook page Thursday morning that base personnel might see news reports about the infected Korean officer.

“They (South Korea’s Air Force) have also taken prudent measures and asked around 100 visitors and coworkers who might have been in close contact to remain home today. None of these visitors or coworkers were U.S. personnel,” Leonard said.

DODEA Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said there are no plans to close military schools in South Korea.

"However, the health and well-being of our students and employees remain top priorities, and we are closely monitoring the situation in conjunction with military leaders and health experts," he said. "Should an operational change become necessary, the principal at the local school will promptly notify students, parents and employees directly."

The disease is spread through extended close contact, such as by caring for an infected person without taking protective hygiene measures such as washing hands regularly or covering one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing, the post said.

He said the base hospital “has established a plan to care for our population as well as screening those coming into Osan. We are also coordinating with Korean medical and public health officials to stay informed on their plans and progress.”

News reports did not say which hospital is treating the air force officer. Yonhap said the officer was previously hospitalized for a fracture at a facility that was treating MERS patients.

The spread of MERS has prompted alarm in South Korea, where more than 200 schools were closed Wednesday and President Park Geun-hye held an emergency meeting to discuss quarantines and other preventive efforts.

South Korean defense officials on Wednesday set up a task force to help prevent the spread of the disease and discouraged troops from taking leave or having visitors at their installations. Some reservists are being allowed to delay mandatory training, Yonhap reported.

MERS symptoms include fever, severe cough and shortness of breath, with a death rate of 30 percent to 40 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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