3 more Mers deaths in S. Korea; new cases fall

SEOUL - South Korea has reported three more deaths from the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) outbreak, but the health authorities said they were cautiously optimistic that the worst was over as the number of new cases was falling.

Doctors are using an experimental treatment involving the injection of blood plasma from recovered Mers patients into seriously ill ones, health officials said yesterday.

Four new non-fatal cases were also confirmed yesterday, bringing the total number of cases to 154, including 19 deaths - the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia.

Of the 135 non-fatal cases, 17 have recovered and been released from hospital, the Health Ministry said. Of the 118 cases still being treated, 16 are listed in unstable condition.

The number of new cases has been gradually declining from 12 last Friday to four yesterday, sparking hope that the outbreak might be showing signs of easing.

The plasma therapy is still under clinical testing but is now being used on two Mers patients at two different hospitals, Mr Kwon Jun Wook, a senior Health Ministry official, told reporters. "Two patients are being injected with blood plasma donated by two other patients who have been cured completely," he said. The Health Ministry has approved the experimental therapy on the advice of doctors and experts, he added.

Mers, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, is considered a deadlier cousin of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which appeared in 2003 and killed more than 800 people around the world.

Plasma treatment was previously used for Sars patients and showed some positive results in seriously ill ones, Mr Kwon said.

The Seoul city government yesterday launched a massive disinfection campaign, fumigating thousands of online game parlours and karaoke bars and distributing tens of thousands of hand disinfectant gels.

Currently, over 5,500 people are in quarantine while about 3,500 others have been released.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline '3 more Mers deaths in S. Korea; new cases fall'. Print Edition | Subscribe