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South Korea struggles to track foreign passengers in MERS alert

By Wooyoung Lee
South Korea struggles to track foreign passengers in MERS alert
A sign is shown on a screen at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Tuesday warning travelers to be cautious of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- South Korean health authorities are struggling to track foreign passengers who were on the same plane with a sick traveler who was diagnosed with MERS, as the government seeks to contain the spread of the infectious respiratory disease.

A 61-year-old man was diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Saturday after he returned from his business trip to Kuwait. The patient traveled with a colleague on Emirates flights from Kuwait via Dubai to Incheon.

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Health authorities said they were unable to reach some 50 foreign passengers among a total 115 on the same plane with the MERS patient, according to Yonhap.

A 24-year-old British woman on the flight showed symptoms of MERS but has tested negative and was released from the hospital.

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Health authorities have traced those who came into contact with the sick traveler, including his South Korean co-workers in Kuwait.

As of Monday, South Korean authorities had confirmed 21 people who came into close contact with the patient and 417 who were in the same places.

The MERS patient stayed in Kuwait from Aug. 16 to Sept. 6 and experienced stomach ache and diarrhea, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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MERS, also known as a camel flu, is an infectious respiratory disease that originated in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has potential to cause large outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization. Patients experience fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Travelers from the Middle East are requested to report any symptoms of MERS when entering South Korea.

In 2015, South Korea saw 38 people die in a MERS outbreak. A total of 116 MERS patients have been reported this year, including 114 in Saudi Arabia, one in the United Arab Emirates and one in Oman.

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