CHINA/HONG KONG – China confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Friday. The disease is present in a 44-old South Korean man, but 38 people who have been in close contact with him are free of symptoms and have not tested positive for MERS.

According to China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, the Korean man flew from South Korea to Hong Kong on May 26. He then traveled by bus to Huizhou city in China’s Guangdong province in the southeast part of the country. On May 28, the man was isolated in a hospital in Huizhou with a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit, while a chest exam indicated he is likely suffering from pneumonia.

The director for the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control told reporters that there is a high possibility of MERS moving into Guangdong. “In theory,” he said, “It’s possible to have a second case.”

There is no cure or vaccine for MERS, which is caused by the coronavirus, the same family of viruses that brought about China’s outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. MERS was first identified in humans in 2012.

The World Health Organization has said, “The virus appears to be circulating widely throughout the Arabian Peninsula.” On Friday, the WHO announced 10 confirmed cases of MERS in South Korea, but said there was no need at this time to screen passengers or restrict travel or trade in and out of South Korea.

South Korea’s health ministry has since confirmed two additional cases, increasing the total of confirmed cases in South Korea to 12. Those two are believed to have caught the virus from the first confirmed patient, a 68-year old man who had traveled to Bahrain in April and May before returning to South Korea by way of Qatar.

Hong Kong has quarantined 12 of the 29 individuals who had been in close contact with the South Korean patient. However, Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection believes the chances of an outbreak occurring there are low.

As for the patient in China, the WHO office in China released a statement saying, “We understand he is currently in a stable condition, and is being well cared for.”

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