US personnel in MERS quarantine in South Korea
SEOUL, South Korea — Three people affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea are currently under quarantine after being treated at South Korean hospitals affected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, according to the military.
One is a U.S. servicemember stationed at Camp Humphreys who has tested negative for MERS after reporting possible exposure to the virus, according to U.S. Forces Korea.
U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan said Monday evening that two others in Seoul — a servicemember stationed at K-16 Air Base and the family member of another servicemember stationed at Yongsan — are under quarantine, though neither has shown MERS symptoms and are not contagious. The garrison said USFK health officials are closely monitoring both, and the quarantines are a precautionary measure.
The K-16-based troop is under isolation in off-post quarters, while the family member is under quarantine at on-post quarters.
The three are the first members of the military community acknowledged by USFK to have been tested for MERS since an outbreak of the potentially deadly virus began in South Korea last month, with 150 cases reported as of Monday evening.
Sixteen people have died since the initial patient — a man who had traveled to the Middle East — was diagnosed, Yonhap News Agency has reported.
Nearly all of the infections have taken place at hospitals, and about 64 percent of those who contracted the disease were hospital patients or staffers, according to Yonhap.
The Humphreys-based servicemember, who had been treated at a South Korean hospital, experienced symptoms associated with MERS, USFK said. He will remain isolated on post until the potential exposure period is over, the military said.
USFK is directing troops, civilians and family members to contact their chain of command and health care providers before completing off-installation hospital referrals. USFK commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti has directed first-line military leaders to conduct unit screenings for the disease and to make sure all troops are informed of precautionary measures.
The military is closely monitoring the outbreak, Scaparrotti said in a press release.
“We are ensuring that our personnel are provided the necessary preventive and cautionary measures prior to seeking medical care here in Korea,” he said.
USFK, which last week recommended that troops and civilians avoid South Korean hospitals, will also screen personnel who are scheduled to travel outside the peninsula.
Officials said last week that the spread of MERS could be slowing, although five new cases were reported Monday.
There is no vaccine or cure, which has prompted thousands of South Korean schools to shut down and some hospitals, including Seoul’s Samsung Medical Center, to suspend services. Samsung is frequently used by troops stationed in Areas I and II of Yongsan Garrison, and officials say more than 70 MERS cases are connected to the hospital, Yonhap has reported.
According to media reports, more than 5,000 people who potentially were exposed to the virus remain in isolation, though South Korean health officials said that number could climb to nearly 10,000 because of potential exposures tied to Samsung.
Samsung on Sunday announced it was halting outpatient visits and unnecessary medical procedures until June 24, according to media reports. The highly regarded hospital is even banning family visits, a highly unusual step in a country were relatives assume many of the non-medical care duties typically handled in the U.S. by nurses, like helping patients bathe.
MERS symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The virus, which has a death rate as high as 40 percent, is not airborne and has been spread in South Korea through close contact with hospital patients, officials say. Those who might have been exposed to MERS are isolated for 14 days, and thousands have been quarantined in an effort to halt the disease’s spread.
The military recommends that those based in South Korea follow basic hygiene, such as washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and covering when coughing or sneezing, to avoid contracting MERS.