Epidemiologic parameters of the middle east respiratory syndrome outbreak in Korea, 2015

Sun Hee Park, Woo Joo Kim, Jin Hong Yoo, Jung Hyun Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Epidemiologic parameters are important in planning infection control policies during the outbreak of emerging infections. Korea experienced an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection in 2015, which was characterized by superspreading events in healthcare settings. We aimed to estimate the epidemiologic parameters over time during the outbreak to assess the effectiveness of countermeasures. Materials and Methods: Publicly available data pertaining to the MERS outbreak in Korea were collected. We estimated the incubation periods of 162 cases whose sources of exposure were identified and the temporal trend was evaluated. Factors influencing incubation duration were analyzed. The generational reproduction number (Rg) and case reproduction number (Rc) were estimated over time. Results: The estimated median incubation period was 7.4 days (95% CI, 6.9-8.0). Median incubation periods tended to be longer over time as the disease generation progressed: 6.16 days (95% CI, 5.38-6.97), 7.68 days (95% CI, 7.04-8.44), and 7.95 days (95% CI, 6.25-9.88) in the first, second, and third generations, respectively. The number of days of illness in the source cases at the time of exposure inversely correlated with the incubation periods in the receiving cases (HR 0.91 [95% CI, 0.84- 0.99] per one illness day increase; P=0.026). This relationship was consistent (HR 0.83 [95% CI, 0.74-0.93] per one illness day increase) in the multivariable analysis incorporating clinical characteristics, the order of generation, and a link to superspreaders. Because the third generation cases were exposed to their source cases in the early stage (median one day) compared to the second generation cases (median 6 days), the temporal trend of incubation periods appears to be influenced by early isolation of symptomatic cases and reduction of potential exposure to source cases in the later stage. Rg declined rapidly from 28 to 0.23 in two generations. Rc dropped below the epidemic threshold at one on May 31, 2015, which approximately coincided with the initiation of the stringent countermeasures. Conclusions: Despite the initial delay, the stringent countermeasures targeted towards second generation cases appeared to effectively contain the MERS outbreak in Korea as suggested by the decline of Rc shortly after implementation. Except for superspreading events, the transmission potential for MERS-CoV seems to be low. Further research should be focused on characterizing superspreaders in comparison to non-transmitting cases with regard to environmental, behavioral, and virologic and host genetic factors in order to better prepare for future outbreaks of MERS-CoV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-117
Number of pages10
JournalInfection and Chemotherapy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Countermeasures
  • Incubation period
  • Korea
  • Middle east respiratory syndrome
  • Reproduction number

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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