Preventing the Hong Kong flu

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Preventing the Hong Kong flu

This year’s flu outbreak has taken a toll on the lives and the economy of Hong Kong. Hong Kong usually gets uninvited visits of influenza twice a year, in the spring and summer. According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outpatients with the suspicious influenza strain, which has already claimed 563 lives this year, accounted for 6.2 out of 1,000 people who visited hospitals from May 31 to June 6. The number shot to 11.2 from June 14.

Hong Kong flu is known to be deadly. The number of deaths outnumbers the 302 deaths from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. The flu claimed 133 lives just last winter. Hong Kong health authorities reassure that influenza arrives every year and is not life threatening to normal people. Considering the high ratio of fatalities however, it can be deadly to the elderly with relatively weaker immune system.

The government advises travelers from Hong Kong to visit nearby clinics immediately upon signs of fever, coughing or other respiratory illnesses. Those who have plans to visit Hong Kong should get vaccine shots two weeks ahead of their flights. Civilians also must pay special heed to the health authorities’ advisories so that Hong Kong flu does not spread in Korea, because flus can be infectious through the air.

If Hong Kong flu is added to the ongoing Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in Korea, the social and economic damage could be devastating. We have already seen what the uncivil and selfish behavior of patients carrying contagious diseases like MERS - and the backward management of patients by hospitals and public health authorities - can do to the community, and how it can lead to the rapid spread of infectious illnesses across our society.

The country has paid a heavy price - the loss of its national reputation and a sharp drop in the number of foreign tourists - for the actions of a few. The government has confirmed 22 trillion won ($19.6 billion) in spending for the second half, including 11.8 trillion won in a supplementary budget, to save the struggling economy from the aftermath of MERS. The people and authorities must join hands to further reinforce the ongoing quarantine efforts if they don’t want to see their tax money wasted. Both the civilian and governmental sectors must be thoroughly prepared to prevent another crisis from hitting our society.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 6, Page 30

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