Medical staffer feared infected with Ebola

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Medical staffer feared infected with Ebola

A member of Korea’s emergency response team sent to Sierra Leone to combat the deadly Ebola virus will be transferred to a treatment center in Berlin on Saturday over fears that he or she may have come into contact with the virus, authorities announced on Friday.

The incident marks the first time a Korean national has been treated to determine whether there could be an infection.

The unidentified medical worker was among four doctors and six nurses selected in an open recruitment by the Ministry of Health and Welfare late last year to offer medical support at the British Ebola treatment center in the neighborhood of Goderich, in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.

Authorities did not reveal whether the team member was male or female.

In a press conference led by the Health Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense, officials said the worker was gathering blood from an Ebola patient on Tuesday, when by accident, his or her glove got ripped off and the needle “brushed” the upper part of the left index finger. The patient later died.

The account was based on testimonies from the team member.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, or simply Ebola, is transmitted by direct contact with blood, bodily fluids or tissues of infected animals or people.

Although the medical worker, who was wearing three gloves at that time, has yet to show Ebola symptoms such as vomiting or fever, authorities said they have decided to follow a collective agreement by international officials at the rescue operation site to evacuate the worker to a third country to be quarantined.

As to why the team member was sent to Germany, Oh Yeong-ju, director general of the Development Cooperation Bureau at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the decision was up to the World Health Organization (WHO), which had weighed the gravity of the case.

“It’s the highest-level hospital that has previously treated many Ebola patients, so we believe the worker will receive top-quality treatment if [he or she] turns out to be infected,” Oh said.

Government officials said the worker will be evacuated by the U.S. carrier Phoenix Air’s civilian air ambulance service.

If the medical worker passes the 21-day incubation period without exhibiting symptoms of Ebola, he or she will return to South Korea.

A positive diagnosis will see the patient treated at the hospital until a full recovery is made, officials said.

The incident occurred three days after the first emergency response team launched operations in Sierra Leone, the country hardest hit by the Ebola virus.

So far, the death toll in the West African nation has surpassed 3,400, according to the WHO. Of the 678 medical personnel infected by Ebola during or after rescue operations, 382 have died as of Dec. 28, according to the WHO.

Two additional local emergency response teams, each with four doctors and six nurses, are scheduled to be dispatched to Sierra Leone.

Authorities said Friday that the incident has yet to thwart that original plan.

BY RHEE ESTHER, LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]




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