[EDITORIALS]Keeping SARS out of KoreaThe world is concerned as a mysterious disease rapidly spreads. Called severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, it causes high fever, above 38 degrees centigrade (101 Fahrenheit), cough, difficulties in breathing, and a low blood oxygen level, symptoms similar to those of influenza.
The mysterious disease, which broke out in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, has spread to Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, Canada, Taiwan, Germany and the United Kingdom via Hong Kong. Fifty-six deaths are attributed to the disease, which has infected more than 1,500 people. The World Health Organization has warned against the rapid spread of SARS, calling it a health threat.
In Korea a few days ago, a person who returned from touring China was hospitalized with similar symptoms, but health authorities have concluded that it probably is not SARS, because the person showed cold symptoms before leaving for China.
But Korea is not insulated from the disease. China and southeast Asian countries are among the popular tourist destinations for Koreans, and are home to many Korean businessmen. It is possible that hundreds of Korean businessmen and their families returning from Hong Kong may bring the disease with them.
SARS reportedly spreads easily to people in close contact with patients. It would be wise to avoid travel to China or Southeast Asian countries. If such travel is unavoidable, Koreans should follow sanitary guidelines and visit hospitals as soon as they have respiratory problems. Airline crew members must report immediately to the health authorities if they witness passengers returning to Korea with the indicated symptoms.
The National Institute of Health last week set guidelines for travelers to avoid the mysterious disease, but it must draw up more thorough measures. It must not rely too much on reports by individuals, airlines or travel agencies. The authorities must take a more aggressive approach, such as requiring those who return from the affected countries to undergo thorough medical checkups.