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South Korea Reports 3 More MERS Deaths


Voting began in Myanmar Saturday in by-elections
Voting began in Myanmar Saturday in by-elections

The death toll from South Korea's MERS outbreak has risen to 23, according to officials, a day after the United Nations' health agency said incompetence had led to the spread of the virus.

South Korea's health ministry also said Thursday they have confirmed three more cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, bringing the total number of known infections to 165.

Seoul officials insist the disease has peaked and is largely contained to medical facilities, but concerns are still mounting over what is the largest MERS outbreak outside the Middle East.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday said South Korean officials failed to implement sufficient measures to prevent the spread of the disease, for which there is no cure or vaccine.

Among the main factors the WHO cited as contributing to the outbreak were a lack of awareness about the disease among health care workers and inadequate infection prevention and control measures in hospitals.

Emergency rooms cited

It also blamed the "close and prolonged contact of MERS patients in crowded emergency rooms and multibed rooms in hospitals" and the practice of seeking care at multiple hospitals.

"This outbreak is a wake-up call and [shows] that in a highly mobile world, all countries should always be prepared for the unanticipated possibility of outbreaks of this, and other serious infectious diseases," the WHO statement said.

But the Geneva-based organization said it does not consider the MERS outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Over 6,700 people in South Korea have been placed in quarantine after having possibly come into contact with individuals infected with the disease.

Public alarm has been widespread, in part because of false online rumors and also because MERS symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath – all of which are typically associated with non-serious illnesses such as the common cold.

Thailand case

Thailand confirmed its first case of MERS Thursday, becoming the fourth Asian country – after China, South Korea and the Philippines – to register the deadly virus this year.

Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin told a news conference that a 75-year-old businessman from Oman had tested positive for the disease.

Rajata said the man had traveled to Bangkok for medical treatment for a heart condition.

The health minister said 59 others were being monitored for the virus, including three of the man's relatives who traveled with him to Bangkok.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.