SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's health ministry on Saturday reported 12 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), bringing the total to 138, and said a 14th person had died in the outbreak.
The 12 new cases, including an ambulance driver who transported a previous patient, follow four that were reported on Friday. The lower number had raised hopes that the outbreak might be slowing, although officials and experts predicted there would be more new cases.
A 67-year-old woman who contracted the MERS virus from an existing patient became the 14th person to die in the outbreak, the ministry said. All fatalities have been among elderly patients or those who had been suffering serious existing ailments.
The case of the ambulance driver was traced to a single previous patient who was being transported last week and who has since died, the ministry said.
The outbreak is the largest outside Saudi Arabia, where the disease was first identified in humans in 2012, and has stirred fears in Asia of a repeat of a 2002-2003 scare when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) killed about 800 people worldwide.
MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that caused SARS. It is more deadly than SARS but does not spread as easily, at least for now. There is no cure or vaccine.
The 68-year-old man who brought MERS back to South Korea visited several health centres for a cough and fever before he was diagnosed, leaving a trail of infection in his wake. He continues to be treated for the illness.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Ken Wills)