7 dead and 2,800 quarantined in South Korean MERS outbreak

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SEOUL, South Korea  — South Korea is grappling with two battles: the virus itself and the public fear over MERS, one official declared.

The nation has been struck by the largest outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outside Saudi Arabia, where the virus was discovered.

And the number of cases grows every day. On Tuesday, South Korea reported that a seventh person had died from MERS and another eight had contracted the virus, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 95.

More than 2,800 people remain quarantined, either at home or in health facilities. More than 2,000 schools remain closed.

Mainly older patients

The virus has struck mainly adults, with the exception of one 16-year-old boy. And the MERS deaths have been among older adults with pre-existing conditions.

MERS, which surfaced three years ago, is not well understood. Because the virus is still fairly new, doctors and scientists do not know its exact source or mode of transmission. But it is not easily transmitted from person to person.

MERS is contracted through close contact with an ill person, usually by living with, or caring for, him or her, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Far from alone

The case that began the South Korean outbreak hit on May 20. The vast majority of the cases are hospital clusters.

Experts from the World Health Organization who have dealt with MERS will arrive in South Korea to assess the pattern of the virus spread and to look at public health response efforts.

The latest outbreak prompted Hong Kong to issue a travel alert asking residents to avoid unnecessary travel to South Korea.

In Hong Kong on Tuesday, six Koreans were released from quarantine, having passed the 14 day incubation period and tested negative. All six had been on the same airplane flight on May 26.

Also Tuesday, in Guangzhou, in south China, four Koreans from that same flight to Hong Kong, were released from quarantine. Another four people, who attended a conference with someone who had MERS, are scheduled to be released on Wednesday.

South Korea is far from alone in dealing with MERS. As of Wednesday, 1,179 cases of MERS have been confirmed in 25 countries, according to WHO.

Two of the cases occurred in the United States in May 2014. Both were health workers who lived in Saudi Arabia.


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