Professors weigh in on preventing virus’s spread

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Professors weigh in on preventing virus’s spread


Quarantine officials spray sanitizer at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday in response to a national outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). By Kim Seong-ryong

Amid increasing news coverage concerning the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) on the Korean Peninsula, the JoongAng Ilbo took time to interview local doctors for advice on what measures ordinary citizens can take to combat and prevent this potentially fatal virus.

The reporting team surveyed medical professors Kim Woo-joo and Chun Byung-chul from Korea University; Lee Kwan from Dongguk University; Lee Sang-ho from Koshin University; and Bae Jong-myon of Jeju National University. The Korean Medical Association also provided information.

The following is an edited compilation:

Q. Most of the people recently diagnosed with MERS came into contact with the disease at a hospital. Does that mean people should refrain from visiting the hospital, even if they feel sick?

A. There’s no need to entirely abandon visits to the hospital. Even if it’s a hospital from which a person caught the virus, you cannot get infected simply by going to that location. Spots deemed critically dangerous are closed to the public anyway.

What if someone has to go to the hospital, perhaps to visit a close friend or family member?

Then try not to take someone aged 50 or older. Most MERS cases have been reported in adults in that age group.

Should a person wear a protective face mask to go outdoors?

It’s OK to always keep a mask on hand, but never wear the same mask over and over again. Just use one per day and discard it. Also, don’t reuse a mask you rolled up in your trouser pocket.

There are rumors that the types of masks used by medical workers are the safest against MERS.

Ordinary masks [sold to the public] are adequate enough. Medical workers who have to deal with a lot of patients don’t necessarily have any other choice but to wear that particular type of mask, known as the N95, but those who aren’t used to it would have a hard time breathing with it on. Wear a normal mask, but wear a new one every four hours.

How should a person react if he or she believes they came into contact with a patient diagnosed with MERS?

The most essential thing you should do, in that case, is to voluntarily try to circumvent the spread of the virus. Wear a mask - in this case, the N95 mask used by medical personnel - at all times, and cover your mouth and nose when coughing. Don’t go to crowded places and try to ban all outdoor activities. If you show symptoms like a fever or a cough, visit a nearby health care center or contact the Ministry of Health’s MERS hotline at 043-719-7777 and receive further guidelines.

What if a family member or friend - someone a person lives with - becomes subject to quarantine?

Stay away from contaminated objects as much as possible. In the case of tables and door knobs, things that are indispensable from touching, clean them often with commercial sanitizers. When coming into contact with bodily secretions like sweat or saliva, wear gloves and a mask. Also, frequently open your windows for air circulation.

How often should you wash your hands?

The more the better. If your hands come into contact with the virus, it would spread all over your body because people use their hands to touch their eyes, nose or lips. Especially if you’ve just returned from somewhere crowded or used mass transportation, you should thoroughly wash your hands. A soap or sanitizer have similar effects, so either one will do.

Can families with members that are quarantined receive financial aid from the government?

Yes, they can. Starting Wednesday, economically challenged households can receive financial aid for living expenses for up to a month. For a single person household, 409,000 won ($370) is provided, whereas 1,105,600 won will be allocated for a family of four.

Potential beneficiaries include families in which the breadwinner is unemployed (excluding students and homemakers), a temporary worker or a self-employed small-business owner. Salaried workers are exempt from the aid because they can sign up for paid sick leave at their companies.

Should students stay home from school?

When looking through previous cases, those who have come in contact with the disease usually did so in hospitals, and were 50 or older. Current research shows that children have a lower risk than adults for becoming infected with MERS.

If a suspected case arises at a public school, then temporarily shutting down the school might be an option to curb transmission. But if that isn’t the case, there’s no need to overreact.

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