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South Korean MERS Outbreak a ‘Wake-up Call’

South Korean health workers wearing masks as a precaution against MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, virus, wait to check examinees' temperature and to sanitize their hands at a test site for a civil service examination in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea shows the urgent need for greater international readiness to fight infectious diseases.

"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," said WHO in a statement.

But the Geneva-based organization said it does not consider the MERS outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, thanks to quick South Korean action to contain the disease.

The South Korean health ministry on Wednesday reported the country's 20th MERS fatality and said eight new infections have been discovered, bringing the total number of cases to 162.

The government insists the virus has been primarily contained to medical facilities and has expressed hope the disease could be brought under control by the end of the month.

There is no cure or vaccine for MERS, which has a fatality rate of around 35 percent, according to WHO.

Over 5,500 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.

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