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16th patient’s point of transmission is unknown

Posted February. 05, 2020 07:54,   

Updated February. 05, 2020 07:54


A 42-year-old South Korean woman in Gwangju has tested positive for the new coronavirus, making the total confirmed cases 16. The diagnosis came only two days after the 15th patient was confirmed. The 16th patient returned home from a five-day trip to Thailand with her husband from January 15. She started to show symptoms on January 25 and was quarantined on Monday.

It is unclear whether she contracted the virus in South Korea or abroad. If she was infected in Thailand, she would become the second person to have contracted the virus overseas following the 12th patient who was infected in Japan. The worse case would be that the infection was transmitted in South Korea as it would constitute the so-called “mysterious infection.” A case with an unknown point of transmission signifies that the virus has spread across the community. No case has been confirmed in Gwangju or South Jeolla Province yet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said on Tuesday that the 16th patient was receiving care in quarantine at the Chonnam National University Hospital. She started to show symptoms six days after she arrived from Thailand and visited two hospitals five times before confirmed on Monday. Having undergone pulmonary resection for lung cancer in the past, she is the first patient who has an underlying disease. Her family including her husband who traveled with her are testing for the coronavirus although no one has displayed symptoms yet.

The lack of clarity surrounding the point of transmission seems to have baffled the South Korean health authorities. As of January 19 when the patient came back from her trip, there were only two confirmed cases in the nation and it unlikely for her to have been infected in Bangkok. “As this is a very unusual case, it is difficult to confirm‎ the infection was transmitted in Thailand,” said Jeong Eun-gyeong, the head of the KCDC.

The 12th patient, a 48-year-old Chinese man, came into contact with a confirmed patient in Japan before he tested positive in South Korea. People who arrive from Japan or Thailand are not subject to screening at the airport, which makes it more difficult to trace and identify contacts a confirmed patient has made. However, it would be impossible to carry out the checks on travelers from other countries than China, which is why experts suggest the possibility of the public health crisis being prolonged.

The South Korean government has changed the definition of “contact” to someone who came into contact with confirmed patients one day before their symptoms start showing, which will be applied from Friday. This means that the government has accepted the possibility that infected people might be contagious before they show symptoms. Meanwhile, the second patient, a 55-year-old Korean man, has been declared cured and will be discharged soon. Other confirmed patients are also in good condition.

Sung-Min Park min@donga.com