Korea has confirmed 24 new coronavirus patients as of Friday. The public attention is on additional outbreaks, but no less important is how the patients are receiving treatments.
Almost all of the patients are at national and public medical institutions. The only exception is Myongji Hospital, a private medical institution in Goyang, a bed town north of Seoul, which is treating two of them – the third and 17th patients.
|Professor Park speaks with the third confirmed new coronavirus patient quarantined in the negative pressure ward at Myongji Hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday.|
Korea Biomedical Review met with the physician, who has been in charge of the third patient at the hospital, to take a detailed look into how local hospitals are treating and quarantining patients with the new coronavirus. The physician wanted to be known by just his family name of Park, citing the hospital’s policy.
The third confirmed patient, a 54-year-old Korean man and a resident in Wuhan, entered into the nation on Jan. 26, without showing any symptoms. He has been under quarantine at the hospital after reporting his symptoms to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) on Jan. 26.
"After we confirmed that the patient had the new coronavirus, the patient started to show additional signs of the new coronavirus such as high fever and pneumonia," Professor Park said. "We soon started treating him with Kaletra, an antiretroviral drug treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1, after learning that the drug showed efficacy in the first and second confirmed patients." The patient's fever started to subside, as the hospital began its treatment with Kaletra.
"The patient's fever symptoms started to subside soon after we started the treatment," Park said. "However, the patient still has a mild fever that ranged from 35 to 37 degrees Celsius and signs of pneumonia."
The professor noted that while the patient's conditions have improved, the hospital is not yet considering discharging the patient. Park stressed that for the hospital to consider discharging the patient, the patient has to be fever-free and show a noticeable improvement in his pneumonia symptoms.
"Afterward, the patient has to prove negative for the new coronavirus in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test," Park said. "If these tests show negative results after 24 hours, the patient can leave the quarantine."
The hospital will probably start discussing the possibility of discharging the patient by next week, he added.
|Hospital workers treat the third confirmed new coronavirus patient quarantined in the negative pressure ward at Myongji Hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.|
Aside from treating the patients at the hospital, Park shared his thoughts on the new coronavirus outbreak as a whole.
"Considering Korea's situation, I think there are not many severe cases," he said. "You can see there are no infants or elderly patients infected with the new coronavirus."
Also, human-to-human transmission seems to lessen the severity of the disease, he added.
Professor Park noted that the new coronavirus does not seem as deadly as what the hospital first expected.
"Compared to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2015, the new coronavirus seems to less deadly as we have yet to see a fatality in Korea, unlike the MERS outbreak when the fatality reached 20 percent," he said. "Even in China, the local authorities are talking about a 2-3 percent fatality rate."
Regarding Korea's efforts in containing the virus, Park noted that while he believes that the government is doing a standup job in controlling the disease, the government could have done more during its initial response.
"What I am most disappointed about is the fact that after the government conducted its first screening tests on people from Wuhan, Hubei Province, they should have cautioned them to stay away from crowded areas because they could have started showing symptoms of the new coronavirus at any time," Park said. "I feel sad the government failed to give such notifications during the initial stage."
Despite these shortcomings, Park still praised the government's response, noting that the quarantine procedure has significantly improved compared to the MERS.
He also gave some personal insight into what he believed is the best way to contain further spread of the new coronavirus.
"The new coronavirus is now being found in other areas than China, and Korea has seen human-to-human transmission," he said. "I believe that there are still a lot of patients that have yet to be confirmed with the new coronavirus in Korea."
Therefore, now is the time to focus on containing the spread of the virus locally, he added.
Park also attempted to address public concerns regarding asymptomatic carriers of the new coronavirus.
"The term ‘asymptomatic’ is somewhat misleading. When a virus enters into the body, it takes time to multiply, show symptoms, and infect others," he said. "Asymptomatic means the gap between the virus getting multiplied, and the patient starts showing symptoms." This gap is hard to pinpoint as early symptoms can be identified only when the patient acknowledges that they are feeling the symptoms of the new coronavirus, he added.
"Therefore, we have to ask ourselves if the patient is feeling under the weather, we should see this as the patient having the symptom or not," he said. "When we look at some of the past cases, many patients that were initially thought to be asymptomatic said that they had not been feeling well even before they first acknowledged that they are having symptoms of the new coronavirus."
The professor noted that with schools opening in March and the country having a lot of travelers until February, the country has to put more focus on its quarantine procedures to contain the virus from spreading further.
The physician stressed that to contain the virus, people have to follow strictly preventative measures such as washing hands, wearing face masks, avoiding human contact, and traveling to other countries.
Of the preventative measures, Park stressed that the government has to watch extensively people who travel during this time.
"As the government has imposed a travel ban only on China, many citizens are half-forced to go on their planned trips as they cannot get a refund on their travel plans except for China," he said. "As cases are now seen throughout the globe, it would be wise for the government to check up on all travelers."
However, he stated that he does not believe that the country needs to extend the current ban from Hubei Province to other parts of China or the surrounding nations.
"I believe that immigration ban on other parts of China or countries seem quite pointless now," he said. "The virus has already spread as the nation has confirmed 24 new coronavirus patients, and I believe that there are a few potential patients that are waiting to be confirmed with the virus."
The best way to contain the virus is to expand the screening test criteria with the PCR method provided by the government, quickly quarantine patients confirmed with the virus, and develop a treatment, he added.
Professor Park noted that such measures are essential as the outbreak can continue for an additional two or three months.
"When we look at the MERS outbreak, the situation went on for two to three months," he said. "So, I believe that the new coronavirus will take about the same period to be subdued."
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