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Korean Ebola team to be treated overseas in case of infection

The proposed group of South Korean heath-care workers to be sent to West Africa to care for Ebola patients next month will be taken to medical facilities in the U.S. or in Europe should they get infected by the deadly virus, the South Korean government announced Friday.

The decision was announced shortly after the biggest representative body of South Korean doctors expressed worries about the lack of safety training to guard against Ebola among health-care workers here, as well as their inexperience in treating the disease.

To date, no South Korean health-care worker has treated an Ebola patient.

Should any South Korean medical employee get infected by the virus, they will be treated by experienced medical professionals at facilities that are equipped with required quarantine units, either in the U.S or in Europe. “They will only return to Seoul once they are completely cured,” said South Korea’s Health Ministry.

Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said earlier this week that South Korea is sending some 20 medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, medical laboratory technologists and military health workers, to West Africa next month, and the team will help care for Ebola patients until January. The group members are yet to be finalized.

All of the team members will be recruited from volunteers, preferably those with experience treating infectious disease and with emergency care, the minister said. The applications for the positions, which opened on Friday, closes Nov. 7.

Once selected, the team members will go through a safety training in Seoul before their departure. They will attend additional training sessions upon their arrival in Ebola-ravaged West Africa, and receive supervision while putting on and taking off their protective gear, the Health Ministry said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday issued stricter guidelines for medical professionals treating Ebola patients, calling for them to be fully covered with no skin exposed, undergo repeated safety training, and every single step of wearing and removing safety gear must be done under the eyes of a supervisor whose responsibility is to prevent mistakes.

Safety concerns about health-care workers caring for Ebola patients are being raised in the U.S. too, as two nurses were infected after treating for a Liberian man who died from the deadly virus at a hospital in Dallas this month, and a physician who recently returned to New York from Ebola-hit West Africa was tested positive for the disease on Thursday.

Since Ebola patients only become contagious once the disease progresses to the point of showing symptoms, health-care workers treating them are among the most vulnerable, even if they wear protective gear.

The virus is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids of infected patients, such as blood, sweat, saliva or semen.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)
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