Published : 2010-03-30 15:49
Updated : 2010-03-30 15:49
Tests showed that a Korean woman is likely to have contracted the human form of the swine flu virus, health officials said yesterday.
It is the first time a possible swine flu case has been found in the country, with concern deepening that the disease could become a global pandemic.
"After conducting viral tests on throat swabs from the 51-year-old female suspected of having contracted the swine flu, we have reached a preliminary conclusion that she is infected with the disease," said Lee Jong-goo, head of the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lee added the final confirmation will be made after further inspection, possibly within two weeks. Following recommendations of the World Health Organization, health authorities are considering sending test samples to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention for sharing information on the constantly mutating influenza virus.
The likely swine flu patient, who is known as a nun living in Gyeonggi Province, visited southern Mexico City from April 19 to 25 and returned to Seoul on Sunday. After sensing flu-like symptoms, she reported her illness to a local health center and has been quarantined at her home for treatment and against further infection, said health officials.
Even though she shows almost no symptoms after being treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu, she will be quarantined at home for more than a week so that Korean researchers and flu experts can monitor the development of the disease and devise necessary measures to prevent future infection, officials said.
There were a total of 315 passengers and flight attendants aboard the airplane that she boarded. Health officials are investigating the possibility that any of them have shown symptoms in recent days.
Forty people in her neighborhood have already been treated with Tamiflu and no second infection was found, according to officials.
"Seven people among those who reported respiratory symptoms to the center were tested for possible infection. Three of them were suspected of having contracted the swine flu virus but only the female patient has so far been found to be infected with the disease," said Lee from the disease center.
In order to identify travelers who may have been infected with the virus, health authorities are currently beefing up their quarantine efforts, conducting fever detection in immigration control areas at airports. Officials said the female patient could pass through the inspection as her symptoms were mild at the time of her arrival.
"We know there is a limit to immigration checkups. It is unavoidable because the swine flu is a respiratory disease," said Lee.
"More important are the next measures such as back-tracking the identified case and finding the origin. I think Korean health officials are fully ready to tackle the current global crisis thanks to their knowledge and experiences that they gained through previous cases like SARS and AI few years ago," said Lee.
"I`m confident that our quarantine system can control the future infection cases and prevent such a disaster occurring in Mexico."
Along with strengthened quarantine measures, the government yesterday began to ask travelers to submit an additional entry document detailing their trip.
In line with such efforts to tighten the surveillance system, vice ministers from related ministries held their first crisis assessment meeting yesterday. They agreed to extend the existing inspection range to all the travelers coming into the country from all over the world, as well as swine-flu-affected areas, until early next month.
Later in the day, President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting of related ministers and directed the government to provide citizens with all information promptly and transparently.
The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs raised its alert level from "concern" to "attention" as the nation`s first swine flu patient was identified.
The ministry`s announcement came as the World Health Organization also heightened its alert level to Phase 4, meaning "there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country."
By Lee Ji-yoon