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[Editorial] Prevention, Not Overreaction, of H1N1 Virus

Posted August. 28, 2009 03:40,   


The government yesterday estimated that up to 20,000 people will die if the H1N1 flu virus causes a pandemic. The worst-case scenario is based on the situation when the country lacks enough preventive measures against such an epidemic, such as antiviral drugs and vaccines. In that situation, 20 percent of the population will be infected with the virus and 0.04 percent will die, the government said. Thorough preparation against the outbreak of the latest flu is necessary, but overreaction causing irrational public fear will be detrimental to prevention and treatment efforts.

The latest outbreak is highly contagious but the fatality rate is lower than that of ordinary flu. Of the 3,500 to 4,000 patients infected with the virus, most have recovered completely through hospitalization or home-based care and only three have died. The fatality rate of the virus is just 0.05 percent in Korea, much lower than 1-1.5 percent in Mexico and 0.2 percent in the United States.

In this regard, certain schools overreacted yesterday by taking students’ temperatures outside of school gates before classes began. One school spent more than an hour to check temperatures of all of their students with only two thermometers. Aside from the questionable effectiveness of the checks, the schools should have weighed the fear and anxiety that young students might have felt. As the flu caused 48 schools to close as of yesterday, Education, Science and Technology Minister Ahn Byong-man urged schools nationwide to react calmly, saying, “School closure is an undesirable response to the emergence of flu patients.”

Amid the increasing incidence of the H1N1 flu virus, public anxiety is growing due to the country’s insufficient supply of both Tamiflu and vaccines. Antiviral drugs are not a cure-all for patients, however. At certain hospitals, patients with common colds are reportedly demanding Tamiflu prescriptions. Tamiflu was in high demand in the wake of the global outbreak of bird flu last year. Studies show, however, that the drug can trigger abnormal teenage behavior.

Health authorities should adequately inform the people on how to prevent the disease and base hospitals to offer immediate medical attention to check possible symptoms and detect and treat patients early. Updated data is available on the homepage of the Korea Centers for Disease Prevention and Control by entering the keyword “new influenza.” High vigilance against the potential pandemic is necessary but irrational fears should not be allowed to hurt the economy and bring social unrest.

Maintaining personal hygiene is important. People should wash hands when returning home to help prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.