A South Korean airman assigned to Osan Air Base in Korea has tested positive for the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus, a contagious pathogen that has infected at least 36 people and killed three in the Republic of Korea.
The 51st Fighter Wing public affairs office on Thursday issued a release saying the airman, a chief master sergeant in the Republic of Korea Air Force, is hospitalized off base and is not displaying any symptoms of the respiratory disease.
Roughly 100 of his coworkers and acquaintances have been asked to stay home to keep the virus from spreading, according to the release.
"The virus spreads through close personal contact, such as caring for a MERS patient or sharing utensils and drink containers," U.S. Air Force Col. Krystal Murphy, commander of the 51st Medical Group, said. "We recommend everyone exercise caution and use good hygiene practices to prevent any further spread of MERS."
U.S. troops and their family members have been urged to maintain strict standards for personal hygiene to keep the virus from spreading.
U.S. Forces Korea officials on Wednesday posted guidance on the command's website and through social media channels for staying healthy, to include:
Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
Covering noses and mouths while sneezing or coughing and properly disposing tissues;
Avoiding close contact with ill individuals, and;
Avoiding touching one's face with unwashed hands.
Murphy said U.S. Forces Korea is working with South Korean public health officials as well as U.S.-based Defense Department personnel to monitor the situation and help contain the outbreak.
The MERS virus emerged in Saudi Arabia in September 2012 and has been traced to a case in Jordan in April 2012. It is thought to have originated in bats and was transmitted to camels before jumping to humans. Nearly 1,200 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and 436 have died, according to the World Health Organization.
The outbreak in the Republic of Korea began in May when a resident returned to the country after traveling to the Middle East region. In seeking treatment in Korea, the patient visited two out-patient clinics and two hospitals, exposing potentially hundreds to the disease.
Thirty of the 36 cases are linked to one hospital.
On May 29, China reported its first case of MERS; that patient had traveled to China from Korea and had symptoms at the time of travel.
According to the WHO, the spread of MERS in the Republic of Korea is unprecedented and include the first known cases of "third generation" transmission, meaning patients contracted the virus from someone who had been exposed to patient zero.
So far, more than 1,300 people in the Republic of Korea have been quarantined.