On May 29, the Chinese public was put on alert by a notice issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
It was about China's first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The unnamed 44-year-old man who contracted the infectious disease is South Korean. He flew from Seoul to Hong Kong on May 26 after his father was diagnosed with the MERS, and then traveled to Huizhou, Guangdong province, ignoring instructions from doctors to stay at home, Xinhua reported.
Currently hospitalized in Central Hospital in Huizhou, the man's condition was worsening, yet his vital signs were stable. A total of 67 people who had been in close contact with the man in China had been quarantined, but another 10 had remained out of contact by Tuesday.
The infected man's insistence on traveling to China despite the opposition of his doctor has sparked criticism in South Korea and China, with lots of legal experts and members of the public asking to punish him.
"Deliberately spreading infectious diseases and endangering public security is subject to civil and criminal laws in China," Han Xiao, a lawyer with the Beijing-based Jingrun Law Firm, told The Beijing News.
What is it?
The MERS is a respiratory tract illness caused by the MERS coronavirus that was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012, according to China Daily.
The virus can lead to fevers, coughing, difficulty in breathing, pneumonia, kidney failure and death.
The MERS is transmitted through close contact and respiratory droplets. Patients with diabetes, kidney failure, chronic lung and immune problems are the highest at-risk groups. The source of the virus remains unclear, but some suspect it comes from camels.
By May, 1,150 MERS cases had been reported in over 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UK, France, Malaysia and the US, The Beijing News reported.
MERS is considered deadlier than SARS, which killed hundreds of people in Asia in 2003, and there is currently no vaccine or treatment plan for the virus. Of the infected, 431 people have died, which means the fatality rate stands at 37.5 percent, three times that of SARS, said Wang Linghang, an expert with Beijing Ditan Hospital.
No need to panic
There is good news, though, which is that the MERS is less infectious than SARS. "The MERS has been around for three years, but there has been no massive outbreak, and only sporadic cases were reported," Wang said.
"As lots of cases were reported in regions with poor medical resources, the current fatality rate does not represent the whole picture," he said."加之很多病例出现在医疗条件较差的地区，因此当前的致死率也不能代表全部情况。"
He cited SARS as an example. "At the early stages of the SARS outbreak, the fatality rate was high, but after research and treatment, it dropped."
Better news is also on the way. China has developed some experimental drugs to fight the virus, which, however, are not ready to be put into clinical use, The Beijing News reported.