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South Korean MERS outbreak becomes 'largest outside Saudi Arabia'

As officials have begun to consider the South Korean MERS outbreak contained, new cases have been discovered, spreading fear. President Park Geun-hye has postponed a visit to the US because of the crisis.

South Korea's Health Ministry reported 14 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), taking the total number of victims to 122. The current outbreak is now the .

Among the newly reported cases in South Korea was a pregnant woman who had contracted the virus at the emergency ward of a Seoul hospital, which has been linked to a number of other confirmed cases.

Eight of the 14 new cases, including the pregnant woman, have been linked to this hospital, the Health Ministry said.

President Park Geun-hye stays home

The spread of the disease has stirred up fear and confusion in South Korea, prompting

President Park Geun-hye to postpone a visit to the United States

, while health officials have been criticized for a lack of transparency and for failing to contain the spread swiftly.

First identified in humans in 2012, MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China's 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). There is no cure or vaccine. Medical experts observed that that disease carried a death rate of about 40 percent.

The milder MERS is thought to spread in respiratory droplets, such as are ejected by coughing. To date, most transmissions are thought to have occurred through close contact, such as living with or caring for an infected person.

Health officials think outbreak has peaked

South Korean officials this week said the MERS outbreak may have peaked but that the next several days would be crucial to determining whether their efforts to isolate infected patients had stymied the disease.

They noted that Friday was the last day of the virus' maximum two-week incubation period for people infected by a patient considered as the main source of the second round of this MERS outbreak. Officials added that the first wave of the outbreak should have ended.

South Korea's new cases bring the total number of MERS cases globally to 1,271 based on

World Health Organization (WHO) data

, with at least 448 related deaths.

The South Korean outbreak originated from a 68-year-old man who had traveled to the Middle East before being diagnosed as the country's first MERS patient last month.

ss/bk(Reuters, AP)

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