Story highlights

NEW: South Korea has 64 cases of MERS and five deaths

Korean Air Force member confirmed with MERS on U.S. air base

No Americans affected in quarantine

Seoul CNN  — 

A South Korean air force member stationed at a U.S. air base tested positive for MERS last week and remains in isolation at a military hospital on the base, a South Korean Ministry of National Defense official said.

The chief master sergeant initially tested positive for MERS on Wednesday. Because he showed no symptoms of the illness, he received further testing which reconfirmed that he has MERS.

The sergeant had received treatment for an Achilles’ heel at the same hospital that had the first MERS patient in South Korea, who became sick after visiting four Middle Eastern countries.

There are no other diagnosed cases of MERS on base, according to Osan Air Base. The United States built the base, south of Seoul, during the Korean War.

The Osan Air Base, located south of the capital Seoul, was built by the United States during the Korean War.

MERS doesn’t transmit easily

MERS does not easily spread between humans. But concerns over the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has prompted the closure of more than 1,000 schools.

MERS, which surfaced three years ago, is not well-understood. Because the virus is still fairly new, doctors and scientists do not know the exact source or mode of its transmission.

MERS spreads from close contact with an ill person, such as living with or caring for them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts from the World Health Organization who have dealt with MERS are coming to South Korea to assess the pattern of the virus spread and to look at public health response efforts.

5 things to know about MERS

The outbreak in South Korea has been the largest outside Saudi Arabia – where the virus was discovered.

Seoul on alert

Steps to prevent MERS

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then dispose of the tissue.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.

  • Source: CDC

    South Korea’s capital on Thursday began asking more than 1,500 people to self-quarantine because they unknowingly attended a symposium with a doctor who was infected with MERS, Seoul’s mayor said.

    MERS spreads from close contact with an ill person, such as living with or caring for them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said all 1,565 people who attended the symposium should stay at home as a precaution, to avoid spreading the disease in the unlikely event that they contracted MERS at the meeting.

    The mayor said the city is considering measures that would force these people to stay at home, and that officials are trying to determine where else the doctor traveled while he had symptoms.

    Kang Shin-myun, Seoul chief of police, said it will enforce quarantine orders for those suspected of having MERS.

    “We will deal strongly with anyone who escalates unnecessary sense of public uneasiness,” he said in a media release.

    Criticisms on communication

    The mayor also criticized the lack of communication from national health officials regarding MERS during his Thursday press conference.

    The national government responded to criticisms. “We are concerned that the mayor’s statement at a press conference last night may escalate sense of uneasiness among the public,” an official from the Blue House, the South Korean president’s office said.

    The national government has been viewed with suspicion – especially after what many perceive as its bungled response to the sinking of the Sewol ferry last year. And the government’s withholding of the names of the hospitals affected by MERS fueled further suspicion.

    But South Korea is far from alone in the battle. As of Wednesday, 1,179 cases of MERS have been confirmed in 25 countries, WHO said. Two of those cases were in the United States – both were health workers who lived in Saudi Arabia.