South Korea officials on Tuesday confirmed the country's first two deaths from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a virus that has killed hundreds of people in the Middle East.
Tests on a 58-year-old woman who died of acute respiratory failure on Monday showed she had been infected with the disease before her death, the health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
A 71-year-old man who tested positive for the virus last week has also died, it said.
The statement said both stayed at the same hospital with the first patient.
About 750 people in South Korea were isolated at their homes or in state-run facilities after having contact with patients infected with the virus, officials said Tuesday.
Authorities are considering a ban on overseas travel for the hundreds of people isolated for possible infection with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after a 44-year-old man broke a voluntary house quarantine last week by flying to Hong Kong and then traveling to mainland China.
The man subsequently tested positive for China's first confirmed case of MERS, setting off alarm as health officials traced his footsteps and tested dozens of people who had been in close contact with him.
South Korea's Health Ministry confirmed three more cases on Monday, but declined to identify the location of any.
South Korea has reported 17 cases of MERS since diagnosing the country's first MERS illness last month in a man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia. South Korea's cases have connections to the first patient, either medical staff who treated him or patients who stayed near the man at the hospital before he was diagnosed and isolated.
South Korean Health Ministry official Kwon Jun-wook told reporters Monday that 682 people who had close contact with MERS patients, such as their family members and their medical staff, were isolated at their homes or state-run facilities to prevent the spread of the disease.
Ministry officials said the number could rise.
MERS was discovered in 2012 and has mostly been centered in Saudi Arabia. It belongs to the family of coronaviruses that includes the common cold and SARS, and can cause fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure. The virus has spread primarily through contact with camels, but it can also spread from human fluids and droplets.
There have been 1,167 cases of the virus worldwide and 479 of the patients have died, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
The World Health Organization said last week that there had been no sustained human-to-human spread and that it was not recommending screening of passengers or travel or trade restrictions on South Korea.
However, South Korea has struggled to contain an outbreak of MERS and health authorities announced three more cases on Monday, bringing the number of infections to 18 in just over 10 days.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control put South Korea's 18 cases the fourth highest number of confirmed cases, after Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Public health authorities faced more criticism Monday for failing to contain the spread of the virus after the initial case.
"We must find the reason for the high rate of transmission unlike in the cases of other countries," President Park Geun-hye said at a meeting on Monday.