A 67-year-old woman became the 14th person to die in the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in South Korea, health officials said Saturday. The Health Ministry also reported 12 new infections that day, bringing the total number of diagnoses close to 140, the Associated Press reported.
The country also temporarily shuttered two hospitals where patients with MERS came into contact with others prior to their diagnosis, and nearly 3,000 schools remain closed as fears of the virus shake the government, residents, tourists and neighboring countries. Officials have scrambled to contain the outbreak of MERS, which dates back to May 20 and is the largest outside of the Middle East, even as they suggested -- perhaps too soon -- that the worst was over.
"I’m cautiously predicting, but I think the peak was reached today," Health Minister Moon Hyung Pyo had said Monday, Bloomberg reported. As the number of MERS cases continued to climb, however, travelers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China canceled trips, while other Asian countries, like Malaysia and the Philippines, warned their citizens to stay away from South Korea.
So far, South Korea's MERS outbreak appears confined to hospitals. Experts say that in order to contract the virus, one must come into fairly close contact with a sick person, although it can also be transmitted through droplets from coughing or sneezing. The majority of those who have died from MERS so far were elderly or suffered from pre-existing medical conditions, the AP reported. The virus has a mortality rate of roughly 40 percent.
Nearly 4,000 people have been quarantined in the effort to quell outbreak, which the World Health Organization has said it anticipates will continue.
"We can expect to see further cases in the coming days and that will happen until everybody that has been infected has not had the opportunity to transmit to other people," Peter Ben Embarek, a scientist with the World Health Organization, told CNN. "As soon as people are identified as cases and isolated immediately, we should see decrease in cases."