The MERS virus has claimed its first victims in South Korea, but officials say the risk of the deadly virus traveling to Europe or the United States remains low.
Two people have reportedly died from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea, the first of the afflicted there to die. Health authorities quarantined another 682 people, including family members and medical staff, who came in contact with the two victims.
Authorities in South Korea said their response to the MERS virus was insufficient and have called on the government to do more to stop its spread.
“We apologize for causing concern and anxiety among people due to… our initial judgment on the contagiousness of MERS,” said Moon Hyung-Pyo, the country’s health minister.
South Korea now has the highest number of MERS cases. The outbreak had been centered in the Middle East, with outbreaks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and United Arab Emirates.
As RT explains, MERS is a serious and potentially fatal disease.
“MERS, a respiratory disease, can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. A typical case involves shortness of breath, fever and coughing. It can cause respiratory failure that requires mechanical ventilation and support in intensive care. Up to four of every 10 MERS sufferers have died.
“The virus appears to cause more severe damage to those with weakened immune systems: the elderly and those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung disease. It’s not yet clear how exactly the contamination takes place.”
There have already been two cases of MERS in the United States, both in May of 2014. Both victims, one person from Indiana and another from Florida, had recently visited Saudi Arabia. Both would make full recoveries.
Though there have been worries about a wider outbreak of MERS in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control said there is a “very low risk” to the general public.
The CDC noted a list of measures it has taken to prevent an outbreak.
- Improved the way we collect data about MERS cases
- Increased lab testing capacity in states to detect cases
- Developed guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations when MERS cases are suspected or confirmed
The ECDC noted that the risk to the European Union is low as well.
Importation of a case of MERS-CoV to a third country is not unexpected and has happened; poses low risk to EU https://t.co/dCuonCZ9u0
— ECDC (@ECDC_EU) May 30, 2015
But not all countries have been as aggressive in containing the MERS virus. The death toll in Saudi Arabia has reached 385, and the country has come under fire from the World Health Organization for a slow response in tracking down the source of the virus and learning about how it is transmitted from person to person.
[Image via Getty Images/Paula Bronstein]