Fifth MERS virus death in South Korea, govt says can control outbreak

Sales of surgical masks surge amid fears of a deadly, poorly understood virus. South Korea is currently in a frenzy over MERS, which stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

By: Associated Press | Seoul | Published:June 7, 2015 10:44 am
South Korean middle school students wear masks as a precaution against the MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, virus as they go to school in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, June 5, 2015. (AP Photo) South Korean middle school students wear masks as a precaution against the MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, virus as they go to school in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, June 5, 2015. (AP Photo)

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

Sixty-four people have been infected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome since last month in the largest outbreak outside the Middle East. Hundreds of schools have closed and hundreds of people quarantined.

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

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“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 UN 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 MERS-related 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 which 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.

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