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(LEAD) S. Korea reports 23 new cases of MERS, bringing total to 87

All Headlines 09:42 June 08, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with more information in paras 7-9, 14-17)

SEJONG, June 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea confirmed an additional 23 cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Monday, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease here to 87.

The number of patients marks the second-largest in the world after Saudi Arabia, which has reported over 1,000 confirmed cases since it reported the world's first-ever case in 2012, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The ministry said 17 of the 23 new patients were infected while visiting Seoul's Samsung Medical Center, one of 24 hospitals in the country that have been affected by the acute respiratory illness.

The remaining six were infected while visiting two other hospitals, the ministry said.

A list of the affected hospitals was made public Sunday, nearly 20 days after the country confirmed its first-ever MERS case on May 20.

The release of the list came as all confirmed cases, including the 23 latest ones, are believed to have occurred at hospitals, also a reason the government still claims the disease is not out of control.

The health ministry maintains it has yet to confirm any transmissions through casual, daily contact among people, though it is advising people to avoid large public gatherings if possible.

Still, the fear of catching the MERS virus has apparently forced over 1,800 kindergartens and schools throughout the nation to shut down temporarily, according to the education ministry.

The figure, tallied late Sunday, includes 772 elementary schools and 256 middle schools, as well as 11 universities.

As of Sunday morning, some 2,300 people have been placed in isolation at state-designated hospitals or at their own homes for possible infection after coming in close contact with a MERS patient.

The health ministry said the number will likely begin dwindling this week with over 500 people already discharged after being quarantined for the maximum incubation period of 14 days for the disease.

So far, only one person diagnosed with the disease has been released following a complete recovery, while five people have died from MERS.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness that had a very high fatality rate of over 40 percent globally before the outbreak in South Korea, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Korea is struggling to find reasons for the wide and continued spread of the disease that has been reported in only 23 other countries throughout the world with over 90 percent of all confirmed cases reported in Saudi Arabia.

A team of medical experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) was set to arrive here later in the day to help find answers, according to the health ministry.

In a written interview with Yonhap, WHO's secretary-general Margaret Chan said the WHO experts will form a joint response team with South Korean officials to help seek ways to prevent further spread of the disease in the country.

In addition, one of their main objectives will be to identify the reason for the fast spread of the disease in South Korea, she added.

bdk@yna.co.kr
(END)

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