South Korea confirms five new MERS virus cases

Latest cases bring total number of infected to 30, a day after Seoul confirmed two deaths from two-week-old outbreak.

    South Korea has confirmed five more cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), bringing to 30 the number of infected people since the outbreak began in the country two weeks ago. 

    Seoul reported its first two deaths from MERS on Tuesday, fuelling fear in the country which has reported the most cases outside the Middle East, where the disease first appeared.

    The country has quarantined or isolated about 1,300 people for possible MERS infection.

    What is MERS?

    More than 200 schools, most in the province of Gyeonggi around the capital, and where the first death occurred on Monday, were shut for the week, the education ministry said.

    Of the five new cases reported on Wednesday, four had been in the same hospital as the first patient, a 68-year-old man who had just returned from a trip to four countries in the Middle East.

    The other, a 60-year-old man, caught it from another infected person.

    Media said health authorities were conducting tests on an elderly patient who died on Sunday after sharing the same hospital ward with one of the two MERS-infected people who had died. Officials said it was likely she died of an existing illness.

    The new cases would bring the total number globally to 1,166, based on World Health Organization (WHO) data, with at least 436 related deaths.

    The WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions for South Korea, although the country's border control authorities have put a ban on overseas travel for people isolated for possible infection, a health ministry official said.

    Transparency

    Pressure is growing for the government to identify the hospitals treating infected patients as fear and confusion mount.

    Public health authorities have insisted it was "helpful" to keep the names of the hospitals from the public, but in an opinion poll published on Wednesday, 83 percent of respondents demanded that the government identify them.

    Ian Jones, a specialist virologist at Britain's University of Reading who has followed MERS since it first emerged, said transparency would help in the effort to stop the outbreak.

    "Being open about the cases, their locations and their condition, is best for control - even if this causes some alarm in the short term," he said.

    Some experts have said the 38 percent death rate from MERS might be overstated as patients with little or no symptoms might go undetected. 

    Symptoms of MERS can include cough, fever, and shortness of breath. It can lead to respiratory failure, the WHO said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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