Vigilance on viral outbreaks

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Vigilance on viral outbreaks

Hysteria heightened worldwide as the swine flu outbreak proves more dangerous by the day, as evidenced by the rising death toll in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, and the appearance of suspected cases in other parts of the world. As with SARS and avian flu, viral epidemics fan out quickly, crossing land and sea borders with ease. With millions of people and goods traveling around the globe, no quarantine and border inspections can completely safeguard their territory against viral penetration.

Therefore, health authorities must be even more vigilant in defending against contagion. They should if necessary organize a pan-governmental body to supervise and coordinate surveillance.

Officials say they will first focus quarantine screening on passengers traveling through the United States as there are currently no direct flights between Korea and Mexico. People traveling by air from the U.S. total between 5,000 to 10,000 a day. We believe screening should apply to all airline passengers, given the speed with which an epidemic can spread and the number of passengers from North America transiting through Asia and other areas. But that would go beyond our human and technological resources.

However, even such extensive precautions could fall short as the virus tends to be dormant for a certain period. That’s why it is up to every one of us to prevent a possible outbreak here.

Travelers returning from the infected countries with signs of fever or cough should immediately report their symptoms to health authorities, who say that the flu can be cured when treated in the early stages of infection.

With the exception of those infected in Mexico, suspected cases in other areas have reported relatively light symptoms and have been easily treated. People showing symptoms similar to the flu should not hesitate to visit hospitals and health care centers capable of flu diagnosis.

Strong public awareness and action can combat and defeat an epidemic, not terror or hysteria. The government, for its part, should secure additional supplies of anti-viral drugs. Health officials said they have enough medication to treat 2.5 million people. But we won’t be at ease until we know there is enough for 20 percent of the population as in advanced countries. Medicine may be expensive, but we should obtain it in advance; we cannot afford to put our people’s health at risk.
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