Samsung Medical Center Failed to Spot MERS Infections

      June 12, 2015 09:37

      Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul failed to identify patients who were infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, driving up the number of infections across the hospital, evidence shows.

      The emergency room of Samsung Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in Seoul, has been a major source of infection after it unknowingly treated a MERS patient.

      But on Thursday, the first infection at the hospital was confirmed that occurred outside the emergency room.

      The Ministry of Health and Welfare said a 77-year-old woman who received outpatient treatment there on May 27 tested positive for MERS. The woman was treated in the orthopedics department and it is not clear whether she came into direct contact with a MERS patient at the hospital.

      That suggests the MERS virus was not contained in the emergency room, as the hospital has claimed, but spread throughout the facility.

      The woman had not been quarantined and was belatedly identified during a test of all pneumonia patients that the government started on Wednesday in a bid to discover undiagnosed MERS infections.

      Medical staff in protective clothing work in a hospital designated to treat MERS patients only in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province on Thursday. /Newsis

      The government's MERS response team said 30 of the 58 confirmed MERS cases that were traced to Samsung Medical Center by Thursday had not been quarantined.

      The health ministry announced a list of additional confirmed MERS cases on Thursday and said the route of infection for five people who were not quarantined remains a mystery. Three of them were apparently infected at Samsung Medical Center.

      The fear is that more infections occurred at Samsung Medical Center from sources that have not been traced so far. The hospital's emergency room sees around 200 patients a day, and its outpatient clinics handle another 8,000. The number of possible infection vectors rises exponentially if visitors and caregivers who also passed through the hospital on May 27 to 29 are included.

      Experts say the government must reveal how many confirmed MERS cases could not be traced to a source and prod anyone who visited Samsung Medical Center in late May to have a test.

      Meanwhile, the total number of MERS cases rose to 126 as of Friday morning, while a 10th sufferer died. The latest fatality was an 80-year-old patient in the final stage of lung cancer. All those who have died so far were also gravely or chronically ill with other diseases.

      Three more confirmed cases were released from hospital, raising the number of cured patients to seven.

      Also, four more hospitals were added to the list of MERS infection sites -- Changwon SK Hospital in South Gyeongsang Province, Miz Medi Hospital in western Seoul, Presbyterian Medical Center in Jeonju, southwestern Korea and Jinyoung Clinic in Sokcho, Gangwon Province.

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