This year, South Korea was hit with a devastating outbreak of a virus called MERS, a more deadly but less infectious relative of SARS. There were a total of 186 confirmed cases, leading to 36 deaths and widespread panic and disruptions to the country. But seven months on, it’s finally been officially declared over.
Bringing the dire case to a close, the last MERS case died on 25 November, though from an underlying medical condition rather than the infection itself. But before an end to the outbreak could be announced, officials had to adhere to the World Health Organization’s policy of waiting for double the length of the virus’s incubation period – the time from infection to showing symptoms – which is two weeks for MERS.
Though 186 infections may not sound like a lot, this was the largest outbreak after Saudi Arabia’s, the country in which the virus first emerged back in 2012. Furthermore, the impact this outbreak has had on the nation has been profound.
After a slow and hesitant response to the index case, who visited four hospitals before finally being diagnosed in May, thousands of schools and hospitals were closed, and around 5,000 people were confined to their homes in an attempt to curb spread. Officials tracked down all contacts to each infected individual and placed them in quarantine for two weeks, a dramatic yet evidently effective measure. The last laboratory-confirmed case, according to the WHO, was on July 4.
Unfortunately, the battle is not over yet, with new cases confirmed in Saudi Arabia and Jordan back in October. Though experimental therapies and vaccines have been developed, currently there is nothing available for patients and treatment involves relieving symptoms rather than tackling the infection itself.