First domestic cholera case in 15 years is confirmed

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First domestic cholera case in 15 years is confirmed

A middle-aged man in Gwangju was confirmed on Tuesday to have the first case of cholera contracted on domestic soil in 15 years.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement that the exact cause is yet unknown, but that the 59-year-old office worker seems to have caught the disease locally because documents show he has not been abroad this year.

The incubation period is normally two to three days, and six hours at the least and five days at the most.

The disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is not likely to spread directly from one person to another.

The countries most affected by cholera lie in Africa, where economic development and universal access to clean water is dismal.

Ministry officials are weighing the possibility that the Korean man was infected by seafood while on vacation with his family to a beach in South Gyeongsang earlier this month. The man said he had eaten raw fish, a main source of the Vibrio cholerae bacterium.

The largest outbreak in recent history took place when at least 142 patients contracted the disease in 2001. The consumption of undercooked seafood turned out to be the main cause.

Fifty-nine Koreans have tested positive for cholera since 2002, but unlike in 2001, all had acquired it abroad, mainly in Southeast Asian countries including India, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

The latest patient’s wife, son and daughter all tested negative for cholera, as did his coworkers. A person can contract cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium, according to the CDC.

In an epidemic, the source of the contamination is usually food or water tainted by the feces of an infected person. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate sewage and drinking water treatment.

In 2014, the overall fatality rate for cholera was 1.17 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But without treatment, it can kill within hours. Symptoms include diarrhea with severe hydration.

The infected patient, surnamed Jeong, told authorities that he first had diarrhea on Aug. 9 and went to a nearby hospital for treatment the next day. The hospital came to the conclusion he had cholera and reported the case to a local health center last Thursday.

Authorities ran a test and officially confirmed Tuesday that he was infected. Health officials are now investigating the exact cause.

An official from the Health Ministry accused Jeong of being dishonest, saying he seems to be hiding some crucial information, namely his itinerary during the beach vacation.

The Health Ministry warned the general public to wash their hands and use clean water for drinking. Food, especially seafood, should be thoroughly cooked.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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