MERS Virus Outbreak In South Korea Sparks Nationwide Scare

MERS, otherwise known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, has downed 50 people in the small island nation of South Korea, killing four people in its wake. A Korean travelling from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, is the link to the outbreak.

In 2012, MERS was initially identified and was discovered to be caused by a coronovirus of the same strain as SARS. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), MERS has a higher mortality rate of 38 percent.

The latest cases in South Korea bring the total number to 1,194 cases, with 443 people dead, according to data provided by WHO.

The health ministry said the results of tests conducted from the South Korean patients showed no sign that the virus is mutating. It also shows that its genetic makeup is “almost identical” to the MERS virus discovered in the outbreak in the Middle East.

As public fear rises since the outbreak was first reported last May 20, there has been no case of long-term human to human transmission. The worst that most people are afraid of is when the virus mutates and rapidly spreads the way SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome did in 2002-2003. About 800 people were killed around the globe.

The good news is that most people who contracted the virus were released from the hospital last Friday, including the 68 year old man who was the first case reported, as well as his wife who caught the virus from him. This was relayed by Kwoon Joon-Wook, who is a senior official of the health ministry.

Quarantine In Effect

People numbering 1,660 and more who were exposed to the MERS virus have been placed under quarantine. People were told to avoid crowded places and large crowds. Travel plans were cancelled by many and had affected business in the country. Hundreds of schools were also forced to shut their gates and send their students home.

People prepared to protect themselves by buying face masks available in pharmacies. A team of experts will also be sent by WHO to help the government gain vital data on the MERS outbreak and are expected to arrive next week.

According to an official of the Korean Medical Association, Choi Jae-wook, “This weekend will be critical. The incubation period for primary and secondary patients ends this weekend. If there is no further infection, then we can say we have stemmed the main tide.” He further cautioned, “But, if there are more cases, we will have to prepare for tertiary and fourth generation infections — and the spread into the local community.”

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