S. Korea re­ports three MERS deaths


South Korea Tues­day re­ported three more deaths from the MERS out­break but health author­i­ties said they were cau­tiously op­ti­mistic the worst was over as the num­ber of new cases was fall­ing.

Doc­tors are us­ing an ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ment in­volv­ing the in­jec­tion of blood plasma from re­cov­ered vic­tims of Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome ( MERS) into se­ri­ously ill pa­tients, health of­fi­cials said.

Four new non-fa­tal cases were also con­firmed Tues­day, bring­ing to 154 the to­tal num­ber of cases in­clud­ing 19 deaths — the largest out­break out­side Saudi Ara­bia.

Of the 135 non-fa­tal cases, 17 have re­cov­ered and been re­leased from hos­pi­tal, the health min­istry said.

Of the 118 MERS cases still be­ing treated, 16 are listed in un­sta­ble con­di­tion.

The num­ber of new cases has been grad­u­ally de­clin­ing from 12 on Fri­day to four on Tues­day, spark­ing hope the out­break might be show­ing signs of eas­ing.

“What is note­wor­thy is the fact that the num­ber of new cases has been fall­ing over the past few days,” a se­nior min­istry of­fi­cial told re­porters.

“More cases are ex­pected to oc­cur spo­rad­i­cally but we don’t ex­pect to see new cases oc­cur in groups,” he said.

The plasma ther­apy is still un­der clin­i­cal test­ing but is now be­ing used on two MERS pa­tients at two dif- fer­ent hos­pi­tals, Kwon Jun-wook, a se­nior health min­istry of­fi­cial, told re­porters.

“Two pa­tients are be­ing in­jected with blood plasma do­nated by two other pa­tients who have been cured com­pletely,” he said, adding they would have con­sented to the pro­ce­dure.

The health min­istry has ap­proved the ex­per­i­men­tal ther­apy on the ad­vice of doc­tors and ex­perts, he said.

MERS is con­sid­ered a dead­lier cousin of Se­vere Acute Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (SARS), which ap­peared in 2003 and killed more than 800 around the world.

Plasma treat­ment was pre­vi­ously used for SARS pa­tients and showed some pos­i­tive re­sults in se­ri­ously ill pa­tients, Kwon said.

Most of those who have died had pre-ex­ist­ing health prob­lems.

A 49-year-old man be­came the youngest to die from the res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness but the min­istry said he had been suf­fer­ing from cir­rho­sis of the liver and di­a­betes.

Three of the four new fa­tal cases were traced to Sam­sung Med­i­cal Cen­tre, one of the two epi­cen­ters of the out­break.

The health min­istry has set up tele­phone hot­lines for for­eign­ers liv­ing in South Korea, urg­ing them to re­port to author­i­ties should they de­velop symp­toms and promis­ing com­pen­sa­tion if they have to be placed un­der quar­an­tine, even if they are illegal im­mi­grants.

The Seoul city gov­ern­ment on Tues­day launched a mas­sive dis­in­fec­tion cam­paign, fu­mi­gat­ing thou­sands of online game par­lors and karaoke bars and dis­tribut­ing tens of thou­sands of hand dis­in­fec­tant gels.


Work­ers wear­ing pro­tec­tive gear spray an­ti­sep­tic so­lu­tion as a pre­cau­tion against the spread of MERS, Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome, virus at the Se­jong Cul­ture Cen­ter in Seoul, Tues­day, June 16.

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