Local physicians are calling for stricter preventive measures against the entry of the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed almost 900 lives in West Africa since March.
“Korean citizens who have visited the countries affected by the virus must be monitored for at least three weeks upon their return to Korea,” a spokesman of the Korea Medical Association, a major representative body of 100,000 physicians here, said on Wednesday.
“It is extremely important that they see a medical expert if they are experiencing any of the symptoms that could indicate infection with the Ebola virus.
“Although the chance of Ebola being imported to Korea is very low, we are asking the government to come up with more powerful preventive measures to protect citizens from the disease,” he added.
The physicians’ demand came shortly after the Health Ministry announced their plans against the entry of the virus earlier this week, which included toughening quarantines and expanding travel alerts to citizens who plan to visit West Africa.
There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for the Ebola infection, which has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.
Its early symptoms ― fever, muscle aches and sore throat ― are very similar to those of other illnesses, such as flu and malaria. Patients in later stages, however, may experience severe internal bleeding as well as blood secreting from their eyes or ears.
The virus is only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, sweat or semen. It cannot be caught by breathing in the same air, the physicians said.
Members of KMA and the Korean Society of Infectious Disease explained that Ebola patients only become contagious once the disease has progressed to the point of showing symptoms.
“That is why health care workers and family members of the victims are among the most vulnerable because of their close contact with patients,” said Dr. Kim Woo-joo, who is the head of KSID.
The physicians also explained that men who have recovered from the disease can still spread the virus to their partners through their semen for seven weeks.
“It is crucial for them to avoid sexual intercourse for at least seven weeks for this reason,” they said.
Choo Moon-jin, the head of KMA, said the government should set up a set of permanent and systemic measures to deal with infectious diseases for the future.
“A variety of new infectious diseases are emerging more frequently in the 21st century,” he said. “The government should use now as an opportunity to establish a preventive system against dangerous epidemic diseases.”
The World Health Organization started a two-day emergency committee meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak of Ebola is a public health emergency of international concern.
Following the meeting, the agency is scheduled to hold a press conference on Friday.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)