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WHO: S. Korea to See More MERS Cases

by VOA News June 13, 2015

A team of World Health Organization experts say the outbreak of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea is 'large and complex' and more cases should be expected.

However, WHO and South Korean medical authorities told a news conference Saturday that the MERS virus is not yet spreading through the general population.

The outbreak in South Korea has been occurring only in hospitals, among patients, visiting family members and medical staff treating them.

Since the first case was identified on May 20, 138 people have been confirmed to have the virus, and 14 people have died, including an ambulance driver, who transported one of the patients.

Thousands thought to have come into contact with infected individuals have been placed under quarantine and thousands of schools remain closed due to the outbreak.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday that all of the 14 people who died from MERS had pre-existing health conditions.

Health officials say that as of Friday, 1,249 people had been released from isolation, sparking hope that the spread of the disease is slowing.

The outbreak has prompted President Park Geun-hye to postpone next week's planned visit to the United States.

Fears over the virus have also spread to other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, which this week issued a 'red alert' advising against non-essential travel to South Korea.

Public alarm has been widespread, in part because of false online rumors and also because MERS symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath – all of which are typically associated with non-serious illnesses such as the common cold.

There is no vaccine or cure for MERS, which has a fatality rate of around 35 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

The coronavirus is related to the one that infected thousands during the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has spread to several other countries.

Some material for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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