As South Korea deals with the largest outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outside Saudi Arabia, the country's health ministry revealed on today that two hospitals are conducting experimental blood plasma treatment on infected individuals.
The procedure, which involves injecting patients with blood plasma taken from those recovering from the disease, was conducted on two MERS patients who gave their consent to receive the treatment in addition to existing care.
"There is insufficient clinical basis about the result of plasma treatment among experts in the country," said Kwon Jun-wook, head of public health policy. "The ministry has deep confidence in the medical staff on the direction of the treatment."
The experimental treatment was previously used in patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the results were positive in those who were seriously ill, reducing the death rate by as much as 23 percent.
The MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) happens to belong to the same family as SARS, but Eom Joong-sik, an infectious disease expert from Hallym University's medical college, said that plasma therapy was not widely tried on MERS patients and there are few clinical study results that have been reported.
MERS is a respiratory disease first discovered in humans in 2012. It is believed to spread through coughing or sneezing. To date, the illness has no known cure or vaccine that can protect people from contracting it.
On Tuesday, South Korea reported four additional cases of MERS, bringing the total number of infected patients to 154. Three more patients also died, which brings the total death toll to 19.
Authorities said that the number of new cases is now on a decline but fear and misinformation are still widespread.
The World Health Organization said that the South Korean MERS outbreak was large and complex but has a similar epidemiological pattern observed in outbreaks that occurred in the Middle East.
The U.N agency has recommended that the country adopt strong disease control measures to put an end to the outbreak. In health care settings, protective measures should include wearing protective gear and masks, frequent hand washing, following infection-control procedures in patient care, and quick triage and isolation of ill patients. People are encouraged to wash hands frequently, wear masks, sneeze or cough into disposable tissues and, if feeling unwell, to take steps to avoid contaminating others.
The outbreak started with the diagnosis of a 68-year-old businessman who travelled to the Middle East. He was diagnosed with MERS on May 20, but not before he had visited several health care facilities for his illness.
The outbreak has already prompted the temporary closure of schools in the country and has negatively affected South Korea's tourism industry and its economy.
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