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Doctors infected with tick-borne virus

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By Kim Rahn

Two doctors and two nurses were infected with a tick-borne virus last year after treating an infected patient ― the first case of human-to-human transmission of the disease in Korea, according to health authorities Wednesday.

The authorities, however, are suspected of having attempted to cover up the infection as they have not made the case public since the incident in September.

According to the authorities, an unidentified woman, 68, was hospitalized at a clinic in Gyeonggi Province with septicemia symptoms. As her condition got worse and she fell unconscious, she was taken to the emergency room at a general hospital in Seoul on Sept. 3.

Her condition rapidly deteriorated the next day and she died, despite the efforts of medical staff who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her.

Her blood test results on Sept. 18 confirmed she had severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS).

SFTS is a disease passed though the bite of haemaphysalis longicornis, a type of tick. The fatality rate here in 2013 was 47.2 percent. After a one- to two-week incubation period, the patient has symptoms including fever, muscle pain, diarrhea, and multiple organ failure.

After the patient's death, four staff members began suffering from fever and muscle pain, and their blood tests also showed they were infected with the SFTS virus. The hospital presumed they were infected through the patient's blood and saliva while performing CPR.

They all recovered, but one of the doctors was hospitalized for a week with a high fever and thrombocytopenia.

When treating the patient, the medical personnel did not take specific cautions about possible infection as they thought the patient had scrub typhus, which has similar symptoms to SFTS.

Last year when the virus was spread, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only told people to pay attention to tick bites and did not mention possible infection through contacts with patients.

There were five reported cases of human-to-human transmission in China between 2012 and 2013. Three of the cases involved patients infecting their family members.

Medical experts say that when SFTS was first confirmed in Korea, public fear of the virus was excessive and the government may have not mentioned the possibility of person-to-person infection to minimize those concerns.

In 2013, when the virus was first uncovered here, 36 people were infected and 17 of them died. The 2014 tally is not yet available.

Kim Rahn


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