Korea is currently in a state of panic. Whether it’s a warranted panic or not is another question. I’m not sure how much American news coverage is focusing on the current issue at hand, so I want to share with family and friends back home what is currently going on here.
MERS-CoV, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus, is currently spreading around the country. According to the CDC, there is no vaccine to prevent this infection, no antiviral treatment to cure the infection, and the death rate is as high as 40%. Public health officials say it could take up to 2 weeks for symptoms to show. Symptoms include coughing, fever and shortness of breath.The CDC advises to wash hands often, cover your nose & mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching your eyes/ears/mouth with unwashed hands, etc. to help protect yourself (common instructions to prevent all sorts of respiratory illnesses).
At the time of writing, there have been 4 confirmed deaths, including at least one in our province of Chungcheongbuk-do. In addition, 6 additional patients have been officially diagnosed, bringing the total up to 41, More than 1,600 people are quarantined, and over 1,100 schools are closed. This is the largest outbreak in the world outside of Saudi Arabia.
In addition, this virus is hitting the tourism industry. About 7,000 tourists from other Asian nations have canceled their upcoming trips to Korea in fear of the virus.
MERS can spread due to close contact with infected persons. “Patient Zero,” the first person to have contracted the virus and brought it to Korea, had recently returned from a trip to the Middle East. Upon noticing symptoms, he visited 4 health care facilities, exposing the virus to everyone who works or visited those locations. His hospital roommate and roommate’s visiting son both contracted the virus. (More on the son in a moment)
We have seen not only secondary infections, but tertiary as well. Now, the son I just mentioned who contracted MERS by visiting his ill father, who had contracted MERS from Patient Zero, ignored quarantine orders and flew to China for a business trip. China is extremely angry and this man is now under quarantine there, with at least 87 other people with whom he had contact, only 14 of whom are Korean.
(See: The Korea Herald)
According to an article in The Huffington Post, there are many people who support this man’s actions of ignoring the quarantine orders and flying to China for business, stating “he couldn’t properly use his sick leave at work without fear of repercussions, so what was he supposed to do?” and “The mortality rate of MERS is 40%, but the mortality rate of taking sick leave is 100%.” Really?
Many schools in the country and in our city of Cheongju have been closed since Wednesday due to the scare. Ours remained open until today (Friday), but on Wednesday I had no students in my homeroom class because all the mom’s decided to keep them at home. Is it really necessary to have schools closed and should we be as concerned as we’ve been? This AP article claims the virus isn’t “sweeping the country” even though it seems to get worse every day. According to the article, there aren’t studies that show the virus can spread during the incubation period – which was a huge concern to us. Can we feel relieved now?
Korea is about the size of Indiana with a bustling public transportation system. I’ve been in Seoul the last 2 weekends, and Kevin has been in Seoul and Daejeon. Our students travel all the time, as well. Everyone is picking up germs from everywhere and bringing them back home, then coughing out in the open or directly onto you, as is the case with the kindergartners. I think we are rightfully concerned.
I’m curious to see where this goes. My new morning routine is checking for updated news articles online (it’s tough not being able to watch the local news!).
Anyway, so far we remain MERS-free so not to worry about us yet. I’ll provide another update about it if things change. Hopefully it will all simmer down soon and not continue to get worse. My thoughts are with those we have lost.