Getting to grips with Zika

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Getting to grips with Zika

What we have feared for some time has come true. A Korean national has been found infected with the Zika virus for the first time. According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 43-year-old male tested positive for the virus after he returned to Korea on March 11 from a 22-day business trip to the northeast region of Brazil.

The real problem is that the man only took the test on March 21, 10 days after he returned to Korea. What happened in advance of the test has us dumbfounded. As he showed no symptoms when he returned, the infrared detection system at the airport could not detect any sign of illness. When the symptoms began to show after 16 days, he went to a neighborhood clinic, but was sent home after receiving prescriptions for the flu. He told the clinic he had traveled to Brazil. After he suffered acute muscle pain and rashes, he revisited the clinic and was tested for the virus. If the doctor had not reported it to a public health center after linking it to the Zika virus infection, no one would have ever found out about the arrival of the virus here.

We cannot rule out the possibility that we have several patients infected with the virus due to the unavailability of their travel records. Our health and quarantine authorities must aggressively track their itineraries overseas and thoroughly manage the data if they traveled to dangerous places. There is no better way than pre-emptive action to block the spread of the harmful virus in the initial stages.

However, the Centers for Disease Control still maintains a passive attitude by asserting that the Zika virus does not spread through respiratory infection and that we do not have the habitat for the mosquito that spreads the virus in Korea. But when it comes to the control of infectious diseases from foreign countries, what matters most is devising methodical countermeasures with an aggressive spirit. We learned painful lessons from the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome last year. Some medical experts point out the possibility of the Zika virus being transmitted by other kinds of mosquitoes as well as sexual contact.

Health authorities must prepare for future outbreaks of the virus by fully keeping track of the first patient through continuous clinical monitoring and precise tests, and by securing clinical data large enough to brace for the next onslaught of the virus. What worries us most is the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 5 to 21. We urge our health authorities to come up with their best solutions to protect the health and safety of our citizens who will go to the world sports festival.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 23, Page 30
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