SEOUL – South Korea’s health ministry on Thursday reported 14 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), taking the total to 122 in an outbreak that is the largest outside Saudi Arabia.
Among the newly reported cases was a pregnant woman who contracted the virus at the emergency ward of a Seoul hospital that has been linked to a number of other confirmed cases, the ministry said.
The spread of the disease has stirred up public fear and confusion, prompting President Park Geun-hye to postpone a visit to the United States, while health officials have been criticised over a lack of transparency and for failing to swiftly contain the spread.
A joint South Korean-World Health Organization mission on Wednesday recommended that schools be reopened as they were unlikely to spread the disease, just as school boards recommended more be shut.
Eight of the 14 new cases, including the pregnant woman, have been linked to the same Seoul hospital, the health ministry said.
The woman’s parents had also previously tested positive for MERS, the ministry said. The woman was reported to be in stable condition.
First identified in humans in 2012, MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China’s deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). There is no cure or vaccine.
South Korea’s new cases bring the total number of MERS cases globally to 1,271 based on WHO data, with at least 448 related deaths. The country has the second-highest number of cases after Saudi Arabia, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.