MERS cases in South Korea rise to 95, seven dead

The South Korean health ministry on Tuesday reported eight more cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), bringing the total number of affected people in the country to 95.

The number of dead has also gone up to seven after an infected patient died of the viral disease, Xinhua news agency reported.

South Korean authorities, however, believe the MERS virus outbreak in the country has peaked, and that the government's efforts to stop the spread of the disease will bear fruit soon.

Health experts say the next several days will be critical to determining whether the government's belated efforts have successfully stymied the disease.

South Korea's worst outbreak of MERS was brought about by a 68-year-old South Korean man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia and other nearby countries. The man got sick after his return to South Korea, and he visited several hospitals and clinics, where dozens of other patients and hospital workers were infected before officials found he had MERS.

By the time the government started isolating victims and quarantining those who'd had contact with them, the disease had already spread.

The problem with MERS is that it is a poorly understood disease, which has no vaccine and the mortality rate is as much as a 40 per cent.

South Korea has placed nearly 3,000 people in isolation and closed 2,200 schools.

Although MERS spreads through close contact with sick people, not through the air, many people avoid going to crowded places. Travel agencies have report a sharp increase in the number of foreigners canceling plans to visit South Korea.

Puzzled over the rapid spread of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO), along with South Korean officials, is investigating the pattern and causes of the spread of the virus over the five days starting Tuesday.

The outbreak, however, has so far been limited to hospitals and there's no evidence of "sustained transmission in the community," says the UN agency.

The team will visit hospitals where MERS infections were identified or quarantined patients are being kept to analyse the characteristics of the MERS corona virus, in cooperation with the Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The joint investigation results will be released on 13 June.