Dozens of people are quarantined in Bangkok to prevent the spread of the deadly MERS virus

Screening carefully.
Screening carefully.
Image: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
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In South Korea last year, a single person spread the virus causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to 186 others, 36 of whom died as a result. Now Thailand, having identified the virus in a visitor from Oman on Friday (Jan. 22), has since placed dozens of people in quarantine. It’s the second MERS case that Thailand has reported in the past seven months, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The previous one was reported in June 2015, and also involved an Omani traveler.

“The new case of MERS CoV is a reminder of the continued risk of importation of the disease from countries where it still persists,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for the WHO in Southeast Asia, in a statement released Sunday (Jan. 24).

MERS is found primarily in the Middle East and especially in Saudi Arabia, where it was first identified in 2012 and where more than 1,270 cases (pdf) have been reported. The 71-year-old man detected with MERS on Jan. 22 was visiting Bangkok from Saudi neighbor Oman, according to the WHO. He’s been transferred to the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute, located in the greater Bangkok metro area.

Authorities are attempting to trace anyone who could have been in his contact during his journey to Thailand. At least 32 people have been placed in quarantine for two weeks, including his son, taxi drivers, hotel staff, and passengers on the same plane, a Thai official told reporters. (In South Korea, 17,000 were quarantined during the MERS outbreak.)

Approximately 36% of reported patients with MERS have died, according the WHO. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but isn’t always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms have also been reported, including diarrhea.

Today Hong Kong issued a travel notice, though it did not warn against travel to Thailand:

 The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health is today (January 26) closely monitoring an additional case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by Thailand, and again urged the public to pay special attention to safety during travel, taking due consideration of health risks of the places of visit.

Thailand, where the economy is faltering (paywall) under the rule of a military junta, can ill afford a hit on its valuable tourism industry. The sector accounts for 10% of GDP, and this year Thailand anticipates a record 32 million visitors, up from 29.9 million last year.