Hygiene matters

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Hygiene matters

The spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in Korea, which stopped after a few cases in other countries, suggests how careless our society is about personal and public hygiene. What’s most urgent is strengthening infection control at hospitals, the main centers for the spread of MERS in Korea. Over 20 people were infected in clinics in which the first patient sought treatment upon returning from a trip to four Middle Eastern countries. If health workers had checked if the patient had recently been to the Middle East and treated him with proper care, that single case would not have developed into an outbreak. But health workers were lax in treating a patient with a communicative disease and let the situation get out of control.

The World Health Organization says because it’s not easy to identify patients with MERS early, it is important that health care workers always apply standard precautions with all patients regardless of their diagnosis especially when providing care to patients with symptoms consistent with acute respiratory infections. When similar cases of MERS erupted in Saudi Arabia in early 2013 in health care facilities, the situation came under control through tougher infection controls. Preventing the spread of any infection starts with precautions at health care facilities. Even before hospital sanitation culture came into the spotlight with the outbreak, infection control in Korean hospitals has long been criticized. Korean health workers remain careless and slack in infection awareness and control. Partly due to costs, most hospital rooms are arranged to host five to six patients. On top of the patients, one family member or more usually stays in the room taking care of the patient. That adds up to over 12 people in most hospital rooms, living and sleeping together. Health care for patients with contagious illness that must be isolated also relies on relatives because there isn’t enough staff at hospitals. Doctors carry around stethoscopes and use them on patient after patient. With such practices as the norm, Korean health facilities are the obvious places for infections to spread.

When someone develops an illness of the respiratory system, he or she should refrain from going outside or coming in contact with others. If they must go out, they should use masks. People should make it a habit to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough and wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. People must think of others before themselves. Without an upgrade of sanitation awareness on all levels, we are always vulnerable to outbreaks.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 5, Page 30

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