S. Korea Hit by Biggest MERS Outbreak Beyond Middle East
Fear of infection amplified by government response
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2015 8:00 AM CDT
Hospital workers and visitors wearing masks pass by a quarantine tent for people who could be infected with the MERS virus at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul, South Korea, today.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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(Newser) – Two people have died in South Korea and another 30 have tested positive for the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, in what is now considered the largest MERS outbreak outside of the Middle East. Most of the 1,100 MERS cases reported since 2012 have come from the Middle East, where 470 have died. All confirmed cases in South Korea have been found in patients, visitors, or staff members at five hospitals the government has chosen not to name—despite a poll showing 83% of people demand they be identified, Reuters reports. Test results are pending for 99 suspected carriers, while 1,364 are being monitored for symptoms in isolation, the New York Times reports. More than 230 schools were shut down today amid fear of the virus' spread. However, a rep at a crisis management consulting firm says "a lot of fear we see now is rooted in the distrust of the government" after its response to the Sewol ferry disaster.

The outbreak has been traced to a 68-year-old man who returned to the country on May 4 after traveling to Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. He visited three clinics on May 11 after developing a fever and cough but didn't disclose his trip; he wasn't properly diagnosed until May 20. A doctor, nurse, and 24 people at a hospital the man visited have since tested positive. A 58-year-old woman who had contact with the patient but was treated for asthma and released, died of MERS on Monday. "We apologize for the inappropriate initial responses," South Korea's health minister says. "We were too relaxed." Third-generation infections have been reported, meaning the initial patient infected a second patient who infected a third, and "further cases can be expected," the WHO says, per USA Today. But "there is no reason for people to panic," an infection control expert says, "and nothing so far that suggests to me that the virus has changed to become more dangerous."
 

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