Extensive Viable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus Contamination in Air and Surrounding Environment in MERS Isolation Wards

Sung Han Kim, So Young Chang, Minki Sung, Ji Hoon Park, Hong Bin Kim, Heeyoung Lee, Jae Phil Choi, Won Suk Choi, Ji Young Min

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Citations (Scopus)


Background. The largest outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outside the Middle East occurred in South Korea in 2015 and resulted in 186 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 36 (19%) deaths. Some hospitals were considered epicenters of infection and voluntarily shut down most of their operations after nearly half of all transmissions occurred in hospital settings. However, the ways that MERS-CoV is transmitted in healthcare settings are not well defined. Methods. We explored the possible contribution of contaminated hospital air and surfaces to MERS transmission by collecting air and swabbing environmental surfaces in 2 hospitals treating MERS-CoV patients. The samples were tested by viral culture with reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunofluorescence assay (IFA) using MERS-CoV Spike antibody, and electron microscopy (EM). Results. The presence of MERS-CoV was confirmed by RT-PCR of viral cultures of 4 of 7 air samples from 2 patients' rooms, 1 patient's restroom, and 1 common corridor. In addition, MERS-CoV was detected in 15 of 68 surface swabs by viral cultures. IFA on the cultures of the air and swab samples revealed the presence of MERS-CoV. EM images also revealed intact particles of MERS-CoV in viral cultures of the air and swab samples. Conclusions. These data provide experimental evidence for extensive viable MERS-CoV contamination of the air and surrounding materials in MERS outbreak units. Thus, our findings call for epidemiologic investigation of the possible scenarios for contact and airborne transmission, and raise concern regarding the adequacy of current infection control procedures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-369
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. All rights reserved.


  • MERS
  • contamination
  • transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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