The deadly MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus claimed it’s twentieth victim — a 54-year-old woman — in South Korea on Wednesday of this week. The health ministry of South Korea also reported that there were eight new patients infected with the MERS virus, making a total of 162 people who have been either infected or killed. More than 6,000 people are still under quarantine.
Despite the current outbreak, schools in South Korea have resumed classes after closing during the height of the MERS attack, but precautions are still implemented as teachers are monitoring student body temperatures and urging students to practice safe, healthy habits in their daily lives.
The MERS outbreak, which began nearly four weeks ago, is now considered the largest outbreak outside of Saudi Arabia. CNN reports that “patient zero” in the current viral attack was a 68-year-old man who contracted the virus while travelling in Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries in May. After returning to Korea and being diagnosed with MERS, the man received treatment at various hospitals, spreading the virus in his wake.
The MERS virus is a type of coronavirus thought to spread through the air in the droplets of saliva and mucus when a person sneezes and coughs, and causes symptoms such as fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In more severe cases of MERS, patients can also experience pneumonia and kidney failure. Patients with the syndrome have a 36-percent mortality rate.
Currently, there are no known treatments or vaccines to combat and prevent MERS, although researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and China’s Fudan University have been attempting to develop an antibody to fight the virus. The m336 antibody has only been tested in laboratories with animals, and doubts remain as to whether it would be successful in protecting MERS patients.
Another treatment being tested to combat MERS is the use of blood plasma treatments, which has been successful in fighting other lethal diseases, including Ebola. According to reports by BBC News, the blood plasma treatment involves a basic blood transfusion, which uses blood from fully recovered patients to treat patients who are currently still infected. The South Korean health ministry has approved experimental trials for this treatment in two hospitals already.
There is also concern that the MERS virus may have spread outside of South Korea and reached Europe. According to reports by Time, a 65-year-old man infected with MERS died on Tuesday in a hospital in Osnabruck, Germany, marking the country’s first victim.
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