Vigilance on the new virusComplications from the A(H1N1) influenza virus resulted in the deaths of two Koreans over the weekend, making it clear that the country is no longer safe from the global outbreak of the new virus. We must strengthen our quarantine system and increase awareness about how the disease is spread to prevent additional deaths.
The first victim, a man in his 50’s, checked himself into the hospital after he began to display flu-like symptoms. It was a week before he was diagnosed with the virus. The second victim, a woman in her 60’s, went to three hospitals and was diagnosed with pneumonia before the last hospital identified her symptoms as viral.
The health authorities have given hospitals guidelines for how to handle the new influenza, including instructions for diagnosis and monitoring, but these casualties indicate the guidelines have largely been overlooked.
What’s alarming at this stage is that the virus shows few signs of retreating. The number of domestic cases exceeds 2,000. Because the source of contamination is impossible to determine, the number of cases involving person-to-person transmission is on the rise.
The spread of the virus in schools and the military is also cause for concern. Some 80 soldiers in the army have contracted the new influenza and eight students at a girls’ high school in Daegu are the latest to fall sick with the flu. Student infections are of particular concern because schools are set to reopen this week after the summer break.
Meanwhile, health experts have issued a disturbing warning of the potential for a pandemic in coming months because cooler weather can boost virus activity.
The government needs to come up with a better plan for dealing with the virus. It should see that screening and monitoring procedures at hospitals and clinics are strengthened to ensure early detection and treatment and to prevent the illness from leading to complications that could result in additional deaths.
The government should also advance the bidding for vaccine supplies from overseas producers to guarantee sufficient stock. At the same time, it should give full support to the local pharmaceutical industry in its planned production of vaccines for 5 million patients this year. Public awareness and vigilance are equally important.
There is no need for panic, but no excuse for inattention.