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More Hospitaized Suspect H5N1 Patients in South Korea

Recombinomics Commentary 14:11
April 22, 2008

In South Korea three additional patients with the suspicion to the bird influenza are hospitalized. According to the communication of the Ministry of Public Health of this country, during the past two weeks with the suspicion to this severe illness were hospitalized 15 people, reported Ynet.

Furthermore in South Korea 11 cases of bird influenza in different economies of the country are officially confirmed. One such case occurred near the capital of the country of Seoul.

The above translation appears to describe at least 15 hospitalized suspect H5N1 cases, since the following paragraph distinguishes the suspect cases from confirmed poultry outbreaks.  The status of the patients remains confused because some reports refer to H5N1 outbreaks in poultry as “cases”.

However, multiple local media reports are clearly describing suspect human cases, which is a concern.  At least one soldier appears to have tested positive, but other local media reports are discounting the H5N1 infection indicated by the positive lab tests, and are proposing that the H5N1 infections are harmless, and the clinical symptoms of pneumonia are due to an unrelated bacterial pneumonia.  This explanation was used by Indonesia to try to explain away the first confirmed cluster in 2005.  In that instance the bacterial pneumonia explanation was discounted because the patients died, and bacterial pneumonia infections are usually treated with antibiotic and not fatal.

The human infections in South Korea may be milder cases, and there are reports of the soldier responding to antibiotic treatment.  However, a secondary bacterial infection does not erase the diagnosis of H5N1, especially when lab tests are positive.  Mild H5N1 cases are dangerous because infected patients are more likely to remain mobile and spread the H5N1 to contacts.  This possibility is supported by the recent announcement that the military is withdrawing from culling operations.

Thus, the current situation in South Korea remains confused.  More detail on hospitalized suspect cases, including disease onset dates and test results, would be useful.

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