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More than 1,300 quarantined in South Korea’s MERS virus outbreak

In South Korea, fears of a Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, outbreak have closed more than 230 schools and put more than 1,300 people under mandatory quarantine, NPR reported.

Two South Korean patients died of the viral respiratory disease on Monday, with three others in critical condition. So far, as many as 30 people have tested positive for the disease, making it the largest MERS outbreak outside of the Arabic Peninsula.

Symptoms of MERS include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and in some cases diarrhea and vomiting. The disease is often complicated with pneumonia or kidney failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to World Health Organization, the outbreak in South Korea began with a 68-year-old man who had returned from a business trip to the Middle East on May 4. Seven days after his return, he developed symptoms and visited at least four clinics and hospitals to seek care. He was not isolated for at least nine days until officials declared it the country’s first case of MERS on May 20, sharing hospital rooms and being exposed to health care workers and family members.

Scientists suspect that South Korea’s first patient contacted the disease from camels, which WHO calls a “major reservoir host for MERS” in the Middle East.

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has spread to at least 1,154 lab-confirmed cases since, with 431 deaths. According to the CDC, the disease is in the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a respiratory illness that WHO declared a worldwide health threat when it broke out in 2003.

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