Given the highly mobile nature of our society, and the number of people traveling to and from the Middle East, it probably comes as no surprise that nearly every day someone, somewhere in the world, is put into isolation and tested for MERS-CoV.
It is so common, in fact, that on Monday of this week Hong Kong tested no fewer than 4 arrivals from the Middle East (all negative). Over the past couple of years, hundreds have been tested in Hong Kong alone (with zero positive cases).
In the wake of Korea's MERS outbreak last summer, which swept through multiple hospitals infecting 185 people (killing 36), the Korean Health Ministry has upped its game, and is aggressively testing anyone arriving from the Middle East with MERS-like symptoms (fever, cough, etc.).
Most of the time these tests are performed quietly, out of the public's eye, and they almost always turn out negative. In 2016 alone, South Korea has tested more than 75 arrivals (cite) and none have tested positive.
That said, over the past four years there have been more than 2 dozen instances where a MERS infected traveler has arrived in a non-Middle Eastern country, and in a small minority of those cases, secondary infections have resulted (see Eurosurveillance : Estimating The Odds Of Secondary/Tertiary Cases From An Imported MERS Case).
Overnight the Korean media picked up on a suspected case, recently arrived from the UAE, who reportedly left the hospital before her test results were known, and had to be tracked down.
This morning the results of her first PCR test have come back negative. While she will remain hospitalized (and re-tested in 48 hours), her condition is reportedly already improving.
This update from Yonhap News.
Suspected MERS case involving UAE national tests negative
(ATTN: RECASTS headline, story)
SEOUL, April 13 (Yonhap) -- A woman from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspected of having the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has tested negative for the disease, South Korea's medical authorities said Wednesday.
The UAE national, who arrived in South Korea on Friday, visited Kangbuk Samsung Hospital in northern Seoul at 2 a.m. this morning after complaining of a "severe fever."
Last summer, in TFAH Issue Brief: Preparing The United States For MERS-CoV & Other Emerging Infections, we looked at an issue brief prepared by TFAH (Trust for America’s Health) along with UPMC Center for Health Security and the IDSA (Infectious Disease Society of America) on the actions the United States needs to take to prepare for the arrival of MERS and other emerging infections.
Granted, the vast majority of international travelers who arrive with symptoms consistent with MERS, Ebola, Avian Flu, or Lassa will turn out to have something far less exotic or dangerous.
But as South Korea learned the hard way last summer, it only takes one infectious case to slip through the cracks to create a national public health crisis.