About the outbreak
The outbreak began after the return of a person who had travelled to several Middle-Eastern countries. The person was diagnosed with a MERS-CoV-infection on May 20, 2015. The person visited several clinics for treatment, and in doing so infected several healthcare workers, patients and patients’ relatives.
At present, the outbreak is mainly limited to a group of people who were in close contact with the initial patient. Three more people have been diagnosed with the infection because they were in close contact with this group. All infections occurred before the appropriate infection control measures had been implemented.
South Korean authorities have created a complete list of people who were in close contact with those already infected, and have provided these people with advice on what to do. However, more cases can be expected because the initial patient was in contact with healthcare workers on several occasions.
All signs indicate that the virus is not spreading through the population.
Symptoms and route of transmission
Middle-Eastern camels and dromedaries appear to be the source of the virus and people are infected sporadically. A person can pass the infection to others via droplets, e.g. through coughing. The MERS incubation period can be 2-14 days, but is usually between 3-4 days.
The virus normally causes a respiratory infection, and the usual symptoms are coughing and fever.
Advice for travellers
Based on available information, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) regards the risk for infection as low for anyone located in, or travelling to, South Korea. Therefore, we see no cause to advise against travelling to South Korea or staying there.
When travelling to South Korea, follow general advice for hand and food hygiene.
Face masks are more common in parts of Asia than in the rest of the world. No studies have been able to document a positive health effect of healthy people wearing face masks outside healthcare settings. Incorrect use is common, and people who use face masks touch their face more frequently, which may increase the risk of infection.
Therefore, we do not recommend that healthy people use face masks. We have issued different recommendations for healthcare professionals and others who treat patients. People who have been infected may also wear face masks to avoid spreading the virus.
If you have been in contact with someone diagnosed with MERS-CoV and develop a fever, you should seek medical attention. South Korean authorities will continue to contact anyone known to have had close contact with infected individuals, and inform them of the symptoms. South Korea has set up a phone line for MERS-related inquiries. It is only accessible from within South Korea, and the number is 043-719-7777.
Advice to people returning from South Korea
If you were in contact with someone diagnosed with MERS-CoV while in South Korea, and you develop symptoms within 14 days of your return, informt your doctor by phone . This will allow the doctor to examine you remotely without risk of infection.
If you show symptoms of a cold but have not been in contact with anyone infected by MERS-CoV, there is no need to take special precautions. You may visit your doctor in person if necessary.
If you do not belong to either of these groups, you need not take any special precautions when returning from South Korea.
Author: Siri H. Hauge