Europe on alarm after first MERS death in Germany

Updated: 2015-06-17 14:08


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BEIJING - The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was confirmed Tuesday to have claimed the first victim in Europe as a 65-year-old German patient died of complications of the virus.

The man from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia had overcome the actual MERS infection, but died of a secondary disease on June 6 at the hospital in the German state of Lower Saxony, said the German hospital network Niels-Stensen-Kliniken.

He was infected in February with the MERS virus during a trip to the Arabian Peninsula, said the Niels Stensen-Kliniken.

German media reported that more than 200 people who had contact with the 65-year-old in the course of the disease were tested negative.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic on Tuesday reported its first suspected case of MERS. The patient is a 25-year-old man who returned from a hiking trip to South Korea in late May, said Czech Health Minister Svatopluk Nemecek.

Nemecek said the results of the young man's test should be known by Wednesday morning. The man caught a cold on Sunday and had a fever of just under 38 degrees Celsius two days later.

He then called emergency medical services, and was transferred to the infection clinic and placed in a bio box on account of his tip to South Korea.

According to Nemecek, if infection is confirmed, quarantine would be placed on those with close contact with the young man.

Czech chief sanitary officer Vladimir Valenta said the young man had travelled across almost the whole of South Korea, but he had not been in Korean health care facilities.

Valenta said that relevant measures were being taken at airports. Areas receiving South Korean arrivals were constantly disinfected.

In another development, South Korea, which keeps the world's eyes on it for the outbreak, saw three more deaths due to the disease and four new confirmed cases.

Among the four new cases, three were allowed to live a normal daily life without any hindrance after contacts with MERS patient. This has caused harsh criticism over insufficient government response.

The three cases contracted the virus at the emergency room of the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul from patient 14. They were all excluded from the list of people quarantined or ordered to stay at home.

With the four new cases, the total infection has risen to 154 since the first patient, called index case, was found on May 20, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that sustained human-to-human transmission and community transmission of the disease in South Korea had not yet been observed.

"The virus has not yet behaved any differently to what has been observed in the Middle East; it is still only spreading in hospital settings and has not fulfilled the conditions of community transmission," Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organization told a press conference in Geneva.

Asked why the virus has spread so much in South Korea, Lindmeier said it appeared to be due to a combination of factors: the delay in detecting the first case due to the symptoms being mistaken for flu, the fact that hospitals and emergency rooms were extremely dense and full, as well as the common practice of large groups visiting sick people in hospital.

He said the recommendations of South Korea and the WHO mission would make containment of the virus much easier, but added there would be more incidents.