Impact of the 2015 middle east respiratory syndrome outbreak on emergency care utilization and mortality in South Korea

Sun Young Lee, Young Ho Khang, Hwa Kyung Lim

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Purpose: In May 2015, South Korea experienced an epidemic of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This study investigated the impacts of MERS epidemic on emergency care utilization and mortality in South Korea. Materials and Methods: A natural experimental study was conducted using healthcare utilization and mortality data of the entire Korean population. The number of monthly emergency room (ER) visits was investigated to identify changes in emergency care utilization during the MERS epidemic; these trends were also examined according to patients’ demographic factors, disease severity, and region. Deaths within 7 days after visiting an ER were analyzed to evaluate the impact of the reduction in ER visits on mortality. Results: The number of ER visits during the peak of the MERS epidemic (June 2015) decreased by 33.1% compared to the average figures from June 2014 and June 2016. The decrease was observed in all age, sex, and income groups, and was more pronounced for low-acuity diseases (acute otitis media: 53.0%; upper respiratory infections: 45.2%) than for high-acuity diseases (myocardial infarctions: 14.0%; ischemic stroke: 16.6%). No substantial changes were detected for the highest-acuity diseases, with increases of 3.5% for cardiac arrest and 2.4% for hemorrhagic stroke. The number of deaths within 7 days of an ER visit did not change significantly. Conclusion: During the MERS epidemic, the number of ER visits decreased in all age, sex, and socioeconomic groups, and decreased most sharply for low-acuity diseases. Nonetheless, there was no significant change in deaths after emergency care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)796-803
Number of pages8
JournalYonsei Medical Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019



  • Communicable diseases
  • Disaster planning
  • Emergency service
  • Emerging
  • Hospital
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

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