MERS virus claims its 5th life in South Korea

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY TONG- HYUNG KIM

A fifth per­son in South Korea has died of the MERS virus, as the gov­ern­ment an­nounced Sun­day that it was strength­en­ing mea­sures to stem the spread of the dis­ease and public fear.

Sixty- four peo­ple in South Korea have been in­fected by Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome since last month in the largest out­break out­side the Mid­dle East. Hun­dreds of schools have closed and more than 2,000 peo­ple are iso­lated at their homes or in fa­cil­i­ties af­ter hav­ing con­tact with pa­tients in­fected with the virus, health of­fi­cials said.

Act­ing Prime Min­is­ter Choi Kyung- hwan said Sun­day that there was no rea­son to be­lieve that the virus would sig­nif­i­cantly spread fur­ther in the coun­try.

“So far, all the MERS cases have been hos­pi­tal- as­so­ci­ated, and there has been no case of an in­fec­tion in other so­cial set­tings. We think we have a chance at putting the out­break un­der to­tal con­trol,” Choi told a news con­fer­ence.

While the virus has no vac­cine, health ex­perts say it spreads through close con­tact with in­fected peo­ple and not through the air.

The U. N. health agency has re­ported that there’s no ev­i­dence yet in South Korea of “sus­tained trans­mis­sion in the com­mu­nity.”

De­part­ing from its ear­lier pol­icy, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced the names of the 24 hos­pi­tals where the MERS pa­tients have been di­ag­nosed or had been treated be­fore their con­di­tion was con­firmed. This will al­low peo­ple who have vis­ited those fa­cil­i­ties in re­cent weeks to re­port them­selves if they are show­ing symptoms sim­i­lar to MERSre­lated ill­nesses, Choi said.

While the gov­ern­ment had ear­lier iden­ti­fied one hos­pi­tal in a city south of Seoul where the first MERS case was con­firmed, and an­other in south­ern Seoul that has been a sig­nif­i­cant source of in­fec­tions, it had been re­luc­tant to re­lease the full list of hos­pi­tals over con­cerns that it would cause a dis­rup­tion in ser­vices if peo­ple started avoid­ing them.

Choi said the gov­ern­ment will also strengthen its mon­i­tor­ing of the hun­dreds of un­di­ag­nosed pa­tients who are quar­an­tined at their homes be­cause of­fi­cials be­lieve they might have con­tracted the virus. It in­cludes track­ing their where­abouts through cell­phone sig­nals.

More than 1,200 schools were closed at the end of last week in re­ac­tion to fears about the spread­ing virus, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. The num­ber will surely rise on Mon­day af­ter ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties in Seoul and the neigh­bor­ing Gyeonggi Prov­ince on Sun­day or­dered more schools in their re­gions to par­tic­i­pate in the tem­po­rary clo­sures.

MERS was dis­cov­ered in 2012 and has mostly been cen­tered in Saudi Ara­bia. It be­longs to the fam­ily of coro­n­aviruses that in­cludes the com­mon cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breath­ing prob­lems, pneu­mo­nia and kid­ney fail­ure. The virus has spread pri­mar­ily through con­tact with camels, but it can also spread from hu­man flu­ids and droplets.

AP

A tourist wears a mask as a pre­cau­tion against MERS — Mid­dle East Re­s­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome — virus at the Gyeong­bok Palace, one of South Korea’s well-known land­marks, in Seoul, South Korea on Sun­day, June 7.

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