02:19 - Source: CNN
Almost 700 under quarantine after MERS outbreak

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NEW: Officials say two MERS patients have died in South Korea

MERS is a deadly respiratory virus that has had many cases in Saudi Arabia

CNN  — 

Two MERS patients have died in South Korea, marking the first deaths from an outbreak of the dreaded respiratory virus in the country, officials said.

The victims included a 58-year-old woman and a 71-year-old man who both had contact with the country’s first MERS patient, South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said.

So far, there have been 25 confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea, including the two dead patients.

Officials are recommending the government temporarily ban people exposed to MERS from leaving the country to prevent the virus from spreading, said Kwon Jun-wook, a Health Ministry official.

During a Cabinet meeting Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said there had been “some insufficiency” in her country’s initial response to the virus and called for an “all-out” response to halt the spread of the disease.

Scientists studying how virus spreads

Scientists are still trying to discern how the virus is contracted. It can cause fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some people also have had gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, while people with severe complications from the virus suffered pneumonia and kidney failure.

For many people with MERS, more severe complications followed, such as pneumonia and kidney failure. About three to four out of every 10 people reported with MERS have died. Most of the people who died had an underlying medical condition, according to the CDC. Some infected people had only mild symptoms (such as cold-like symptoms) or no symptoms at all.

A paper published in July 2014 in the journal mBio said it might be airborne.

At the time, there was what the World Health Organization deemed a particularly alarming outbreak, in Saudi Arabia and the United States, CNN reported. The first cases were documented in spring 2012 and were linked to camels.

The researchers detected fragments of the virus in the air at a barn where four of nine camels were infected. They called for additional measures to prevent possible camel to human transmission, but also emphasized that more research was needed.

According to a May WHO report, between the 18th and 23rd of the month, the National Health Regulations arm of WHO received reports of four new cases of MERS in Saudi Arabia, including one death.

As of May 25,WHO had received 1,139 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS globally, including at least 431 related deaths.

Most South Korea cases tied to first patient

In South Korea, officials reported that at least 19 of the 25 MERS patients in the country had been in medical facilities and were in direct contact with the first patient to be diagnosed with the virus.

Among those sick, five are in unstable condition, with one in critical. The first patient developed symptoms on May 11 and suffered from pneumonia and respiratory difficulty, but is in stable condition. That means, according to officials, that person’s odds of surviving are greater.

At least 682 people are quarantined in their homes or at medical facilities, Kwon said.

Fear about the virus is gripping many in South Korea. There are no vaccines, no cures and the fatality rate for the illness is high.