Health authorities confirm first West Nile virus infection

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Health authorities confirm first West Nile virus infection

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South Korean health authorities confirmed Wednesday the country's first West Nile virus case involving a patient who contracted the disease while traveling in Africa.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), the patient, whose identity was withheld for privacy reasons, traveled to Guinea from January to June and returned to the country after developing symptoms of West Nile fever.

The patient is currently being treated for various related symptoms that include paralysis, the KCDC said.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease usually found in the West Nile region.

There are currently no vaccines for the disease, which has claimed over 120 lives in the United States and Canada this year alone.

With the first confirmed case of West Nile virus in the country, the KCDC is moving to intensify its watch on the deadly virus, starting with cautions for people traveling to Africa.

In a recent memo to all hospitals and health institutes, the KCDC requested special attention to patients who recently returned from virus-prone area, including the United States, with possible symptoms of the disease. The case-fatality rate is said to be as high as 15 percent among the elderly though less than 1 percent of people infected with the West Nile virus develop severe illnesses.

The lack of any vaccine to prevent a possible spread of the virus makes it more important to ensure the virus does not become native to the country, KCDC officials said.

"The United States, where the West Nile virus is apparently spreading, had not reported any infection cases up until 1999," said Kwon Joon-wook, head of KCDC's Center for Infectious Disease Control.

The KCDC has continued to check for the West Nile virus in sample mosquitoes in the country. It plans to increase the number of tests and sample mosquitoes to intensify its monitoring. (Yonhap)

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