Another person has died in South Korea from Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, bringing the known death toll in that country to 16. About 150 people have been infected in South Korea since an outbreak began a month ago, and about 120 are currently being treated, CNN reported, citing the country’s Ministry of Health.
South Korean health officials said Saturday the spread of the deadly virus appeared to be slowing, but the country is not yet out of the woods. Officials have teamed up with the World Health Organization to assess the outbreak, with Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director general for health security, telling reporters Saturday more cases were anticipated. “[T]he outbreak has been large and is complex," Fukuda said, according to Agence France-Presse.
In the past week, meanwhile, at least five new cases have been recorded in Saudi Arabia, where the coronavirus that causes MERS was first identified in 2012, CNN reported. The outbreak in South Korea is the largest outside Saudi Arabia.
Last month, a 68-year-old man now known as “patient zero” walked into a hospital with a cough and a fever. The man had recently traveled to four Middle Eastern countries. The outbreak has put the entire country on edge, with officials shutting down schools and placing more than 2,800 people under quarantine.
MERS causes coughing, fever and shortness of breath, among other symptoms. It’s fatal in about 40 percent of cases. Scientists say the disease is easily treatable, but pharmaceutical companies lack an incentive to manufacture treatments because profits would be low.
AFP reported the largest group of those who contracted MERS in South Korea can be traced to Samsung Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in Seoul. The president of the facility issued a public apology Sunday, saying, “This is entirely our responsibility and failing, as we did not properly manage emergency-room staff.”