MERS-CoV outbreak following a single patient exposure in an emergency room in South Korea: an epidemiological outbreak study

Lancet. 2016 Sep 3;388(10048):994-1001. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30623-7. Epub 2016 Jul 9.


Background: In 2015, a large outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection occurred following a single patient exposure in an emergency room at the Samsung Medical Center, a tertiary-care hospital in Seoul, South Korea. We aimed to investigate the epidemiology of MERS-CoV outbreak in our hospital.

Methods: We identified all patients and health-care workers who had been in the emergency room with the index case between May 27 and May 29, 2015. Patients were categorised on the basis of their exposure in the emergency room: in the same zone as the index case (group A), in different zones except for overlap at the registration area or the radiology suite (group B), and in different zones (group C). We documented cases of MERS-CoV infection, confirmed by real-time PCR testing of sputum samples. We analysed attack rates, incubation periods of the virus, and risk factors for transmission.

Findings: 675 patients and 218 health-care workers were identified as contacts. MERS-CoV infection was confirmed in 82 individuals (33 patients, eight health-care workers, and 41 visitors). The attack rate was highest in group A (20% [23/117] vs 5% [3/58] in group B vs 1% [4/500] in group C; p<0·0001), and was 2% (5/218) in health-care workers. After excluding nine cases (because of inability to determine the date of symptom onset in six cases and lack of data from three visitors), the median incubation period was 7 days (range 2-17, IQR 5-10). The median incubation period was significantly shorter in group A than in group C (5 days [IQR 4-8] vs 11 days [6-12]; p<0·0001). There were no confirmed cases in patients and visitors who visited the emergency room on May 29 and who were exposed only to potentially contaminated environment without direct contact with the index case. The main risk factor for transmission of MERS-CoV was the location of exposure.

Interpretation: Our results showed increased transmission potential of MERS-CoV from a single patient in an overcrowded emergency room and provide compelling evidence that health-care facilities worldwide need to be prepared for emerging infectious diseases.

Funding: None.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control
  • Cross Infection / transmission
  • Crowding
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Republic of Korea / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult