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South Korea reports more MERS infections and a 14th death

South Korea's Health Ministry has reported 12 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and a further death. The outbreak is the largest outside Saudi Arabia.

The 12 new MERS diagnoses on Saturday have brought the total number of cases to 138. The 14th person to die was a 67-year-old woman who caught the virus from an existing patient. All the fatalities in the MERS outbreak have been among elderly patients or those who had a serious existing illness.

In all there are 3,680 people being kept in isolation after possible contact with those infected.

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

Measures have been taken to prevent infection in the wider community with some 2,900 schools and kindergartens remaining closed on Friday.

Two hospitals have been temporarily closed after MERS patients were found to have had contact with hundreds of people there before they were diagnosed, according to officials.

There are no MERS patients at either the Mediheal Hospital in western Seoul or Changwon SK Hospital in the southern city of Changwon but dozens of medical staff and existing patients are quarantined there.

Mediheal is to reopen on June 23, and Changwon SK on June 24, city officials said.

MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed about 800 people worldwide in 2002-2003. MERS is more deadly than SARS and there is no cure or vaccine, though it does not spread as easily.

MERS has a death rate of about 40 percent among reported cases.

A 68-year-old man brought MERS to South Korea after a trip to Saudi Arabia at the end of May. He visited several health centers for a cough and fever before he was diagnosed, leaving a trail of infection in his wake. He continues to be treated for the illness.

jm/bk (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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