USFK warns against visiting Korean hospitals amid MERS outbreak
SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea is recommending that troops and civilians avoid South Korean hospitals as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome continues to spread across the peninsula.
USFK is also recommending that members of the military community who have been seen since May 15 at any of two dozen South Korean hospitals affected by the potentially deadly virus call their health clinic for a phone evaluation and guidance.
Those who have been treated at other hospitals and are displaying MERS symptoms – fever, cough or shortness of breath – should contact their military medical care provider.
The South Korean government on Sunday listed hospitals that have treated MERS patients, all of whom have contracted the disease in hospitals.
No U.S. troops or USFK civilians have been diagnosed with MERS.
As of Monday morning, 87 people in South Korea had been infected with MERS, including the first teen to contract the disease on the peninsula, and six patients have died, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported.
MERS has a death rate of 30 percent to 40 percent, and no specific treatment or vaccine is available.
MERS has only been transmitted through direct and indirect contact at hospitals and has not been shown to not been shown to be transmitted through the air or in community settings, officials say. However, some 1,800 schools in South Korea have closed because of fears of the disease.
At Osan Air Base, where a South Korean enlisted airman was found last week to have the virus, medical officials are reviewing all off-base referrals and are in the process of contacting every Osan member who has been seen at a South Korean hospital since May 15.
Military officials are encouraging the practice of good hygiene to avoid the spread of the disease, which, Osan noted, is contracted through contact with mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry also announced Monday it will install thermal scanners at the Kaesong Industrial Complex to help detect signs of the virus, according to Yonhap. Approximately 53,000 North Koreans work at the complex, which is jointly run by the North and South.
USFK’s Area I, which includes camps Red Cloud, Stanley, Hovey and Casey, announced Monday afternoon that its tours of the Demilitarized Zone are being canceled until further notice because of MERS.
“Future tours will not be scheduled until a health and safety clearance is received,” a post on the Area I Facebook page said.