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S. Korea confirms fourth MERS death as alarm grows

People wearing face masks walk through a subway station in Seoul.
Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images
People wearing face masks walk through a subway station in Seoul.

South Korea confirmed the death of one more victim of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Friday, the fourth fatality in an outbreak of the often-deadly virus in the country.

The patient was a 76-year-old man and had been the third person to contract the illness after sharing a ward with other MERS patients, the ministry said in a press release.

The ministry said five more people were confirmed to be carrying the disease, bringing the total of South Koreans with MERS to 41 -- the highest number outside the Middle East.

About 1,600 people have been quarantined in South Korea, most at home but some in medical institutions. The new cases bring the total globally to about 1,185, based on WHO data, with at least 443 related deaths.

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While there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission, the worst-case scenario would be for the virus to change and spread rapidly, as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) did in 2002-2003, killing about 800 people around the world.

MERS was first identified in humans in 2012 and is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered SARS. But MERS has a much higher death rate at 38 percent, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures.