Health authorities must wake up

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Health authorities must wake up

Our health authorities still show a flawed control of infectious diseases. Even though a Korean national, a 20-year-old male college student, was diagnosed with the Zika virus — the second patient in Korea infected with the mosquito-borne virus — the run-up to the crisis has exposed many loopholes in the detection system. The government elevated the head of the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the vice-ministerial level last year, after the deadly outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
But nothing has changed since.

According to the CDC, the college student on Wednesday tested positive for the Zika virus after travelling to the Philippines from April 10 to 14. That’s a month after the first patient appeared in late March. At the time, a man in his 40s went to Brazil — a country still suffering from the rapid spread of the virus — but our quarantine system didn’t work at all. Despite the emergence of such patients in the Philippines and more than 5,000 travelers from the country entering Korea, our health authorities just sit on their hands.

The student went to a clinic in his neighborhood six days after his return because he was experiencing flu-like symptoms. But the doctor could not diagnose him because he did not have to provide his travel information to the doctor; the Philippines was excluded from the list for mandatory notification on the grounds that it is a country where the Zika virus appears sporadically.

After complaining about rashes two days later, the patient received treatment from a nearby hospital last weekend, and the hospital reported his case to a public health center as a possible Zika case. But the public health center dragged its feet because it was the weekend. The health center received the report from the hospital on Monday and then sent his blood and saliva samples to the National Research Institute of Health, wasting precious time.

This all testifies to a serious lack of a sense of urgency. Moreover, health authorities disgraced themselves by announcing the wrong name of the first clinic the patient visited. We wonder if they are not fully awake, even after their failure to deal with MERS.

The Zika virus is not airborne as MERS is. But the authorities must do their best to block the new virus, which may be linked to microcephaly, from entering Korea. Some 20 million Koreans travel to foreign countries annually, and 40,000 foreigners visit Korea daily. Our health authorities must protect the health of the public, no matter what.


JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 30

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