South Korea Reports 5 Additional Cases of MERS; 1 New Death

kpopluv, June 15, 2015, 10:01 a.m.

South Korea reported one more death from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Monday, along with five new cases that brought the total number of people diagnosed with the disease here to 150. A 58-year-old patient died while undergoing treatment at a hospital, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The person had diabetes, though it was not clear whether MERS had caused his existing health condition to worsen, leading to his death. Other personal information of the deceased, including his identity, was not released for privacy reasons. The ministry earlier announced two additional deaths since its latest report Sunday, but the number included the death of a 61-year-old male, which had already been reported Sunday.

The latest fatality raised the number of MERS-related deaths in the country to 16. With the latest death, the fatality rate of the disease in South Korea came to 10.7 percent, lower than the over 40 percent tallied globally. The ministry said 17 of those diagnosed were currently in unstable condition. The number of people diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease has reached 150 with the five new cases. Of those diagnosed so far, 64 percent were either patients or hospital staff who came in close contact with MERS patients, the ministry said.

Nearly all infections have occurred at hospitals that had unknowingly treated MERS patients with possibly the only exceptions so far being an ambulance driver and a rescue worker who had helped transport MERS patients. The diagnosis of the rescue worker has led to a partial shutdown of at least two hospitals.

Boramae Medical Center and the Korea Cancer Center Hospital, both in Seoul, said they have temporarily closed their emergency rooms as of Sunday after they confirmed the rescue worker had visited them prior to his diagnosis over the weekend.

The move came after Samsung Medical Seoul in Seoul voluntarily shut down nearly all its operations after it was identified as a major source of infections, accounting for nearly half of confirmed infections so far. Since the outbreak of the viral disease was first confirmed May 20, the country has isolated those who have come in close contact with known patients.

As of Monday, the number of people currently in isolation came to 5,216 while some 2,500 people have been released after testing negative or showing no symptoms for the maximum incubation period of MERS. The health ministry later said the number could soon near 10,000 as some 4,000 others faced possible quarantine for having visited Samsung Medical Center or coming in close contact with patients or staff members there.

The government said it may consider employing private clinical technicians to test suspected MERS patients, noting its state-run institutes are already running at full capacity but unable to meet the fast growing number of suspected cases. So far, 14 people previously diagnosed with the disease have been discharged following complete recoveries. MERS is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, some 1,100 cases had been confirmed throughout the world until the outbreak here.

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