Health

South Korea reports 1st possible case of viral pneumonia

South Korea has put a 36-year-old Chinese woman under isolated treatment amid concerns that she brought back a form of viral pneumonia that has sickened dozens in mainland China and Hong Kong in recent weeks.

The Korea Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say the cause remains unknown

A woman, left, leaves the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre in the city of Wuhan, where an outbreak of pneumonia originated. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty)

South Korea has put a 36-year-old Chinese woman under isolated treatment amid concerns that she brought back a form of viral pneumonia that has sickened dozens in mainland China and Hong Kong in recent weeks.

The Korea Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the woman, who was diagnosed with pneumonia on Tuesday following two business trips to China last month, represented the country's first possible case of the respiratory illness whose cause remains unknown.

The unidentified woman, who works for a South Korean company near capital Seoul, has experienced cough and fever since returning from a five-day trip to the Chinese city of Xiamen on Dec. 30, the KCDC said in a press release.

She had also visited Wuhan, the mainland Chinese city where the outbreak originated, for five days in mid-December. She told South Korean doctors she made no contact with animals while she was there and didn't visit a seafood market in Wuhan's suburbs where most of the cases have been traced to.

The KCDC said the woman was in relatively good condition and undergoing tests at a hospital south of Seoul to confirm whether she has the same illness as the Wuhan patients. South Korean officials have tightened monitoring of people entering from China and advised travellers to avoid contact with animals and take extra care in personal hygiene. 

A man wears a mask to protect himself in Bejing during the 2003 SARS epidemic. (Greg Baker/The Associated Press)

The disease — an unidentified form of viral pneumonia — has sent 59 people to the hospital in Wuhan in central Hubei province. As of Sunday, seven were in critical condition, while the rest were stable.

In Hong Kong, a total of 15 patients were being treated Sunday for symptoms including fever and respiratory infection after recent visits to Wuhan. It is not clear whether they have the same illness as the Wuhan patients.

Eight Chinese patients diagnosed with an unidentified viral pneumonia were released from hospital on Wednesday after showing no signs of fever for several days, state-owned CCTV reported.
 
The pneumonia outbreak started in the central city of Wuhan late last month and 59 cases had been reported by Sunday, health authorities said, prompting fears of a possible SARS epidemic.
 
Chinese authorities said that laboratory tests have ruled out SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which are both caused by a family of viruses known as coronaviruses. Bird flu and other common respiratory pathogens have also been excluded. But a new coronavirus could not be ruled out.

The World Health Organization said new coronaviruses emerge periodically and several are known to be circulating in animals that have not infected humans.

"According to Chinese authorities, the virus in question can cause severe illness in some patients and does not transmit readily between people," WHO China Media said in a statement.

"More comprehensive information is required to confirm the pathogen, as well as to better understand the epidemiology of the outbreak, the clinical picture, the investigations to determine the source, modes of transmission, extent of infection, and the countermeasures implemented."

 SARS emerged in southern China late in 2002 and spread rapidly to other cities and countries in 2003. More than 8,000 people were infected and 775 died. 

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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