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Understanding the H1N1 virusThough Korea raises its crisis level to ‘Red’ due to the spread of H1N1, Dr. Ko Byung-su states, “we need not be afraid”
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승인 2009.11.26  14:25:21
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As of Thursday, November 19, 2009, the influenza A (H1N1) virus, colloquially known as swine flu, will have claimed the lives of 82 people in South Korea. It is estimated that 20 percent of the country is infected with H1N1 or with influenza like illness (ILI). In response, the Korean Government has raised the crisis classification level to ‘Red’, the highest level in the four colour system, meaning that the virus has become, officially, a pandemic.

Though there have been no casualties on Jeju-do, 4,000 people do have ILI within the province and approximately 100 people have been diagnosed with H1N1. It is believed that the spread of the virus will reach its peak in the coming weeks as the weather becomes colder.

The statistics and medical jargon connected with H1N1 may appear as a cause for alarm, but as Ko Byung-su, a doctor at Topdong medical clinic in Jeju-si, assured The Jeju Weekly, “we need not be afraid. We cannot be phobic. No phobia. Why? 30,000 people have died from the regular flu in America every year. 4,000 people are dead now [from H1N1].” Dr. Ko said that those who have passed away due to H1N1 are, for the most part, in the high risk category; people with compromised immune systems (cancer), respiratory problems, neuromuscular disorders and the obese.

If this is the case then why is there a culture of fear surrounding the H1N1 virus?
The H1N1 virus is related to the Spanish flu of 1918, which caused between 50,000,000 to 100,000,000 deaths worldwide with over 500,000,000 million people infected. “But the Spanish flu they had no vaccination, bad hygiene. H1N1 is a subtype of this flu,” Ko said. One of the main characteristics that made the disease such a cause of dread was that, predominately, its victims were the healthy and the young. There is the worry, Dr. Ko mentioned, that considering “we do not know exactly what [H1N1] is,” it could mutate into a virus we know even less about.

On October 29th, I displayed all of the symptoms of the H1N1 virus; a high fever that induced mild hallucinations, persistent coughing, aches and pains and fatigue. Immediately, I went to the Seogwipo General Hospital where I was quickly examined, given the token posterior inoculation, told that I had H1N1 and then quarantined to my apartment for seven days. No blood was taken and no tests were administered other than those conducted in a basic check up. I was given Tamiflu, the H1N1 antiviral medication, and was out the door within ten minutes.

On returning to work after a week and a half absence I handed over my medical letter. I was promptly informed by my superior that I was not diagnosed with H1N1, even though I understood from the doctor that was what I had. Instead the letter read that I had ILI. This troubled me; I felt like I had been lied to and in turn had lied to my boss. Even more distressing was that I had been administered medication specifically for H1N1.

Dr. Ko said that those with ILI “are not diagnosed people.” To be diagnosed with H1N1 one must endure a series of “laboratory tests [that take] three or four days… We cannot test everyone… 60 percent of the people with ILI have H1N1.” The problem with waiting for the test results is that, as Dr. Ko explained, Tamiflu must be taken within two days from the first appearance of symptoms for the medication to be effective.

“Tamiflu is not good for ILI,” said Dr. Ko. “It is not useful, but it does not affect you.” Rather than wait, Tamiflu is prescribed with the hope of containing the spread of the virus. The side effects of the medication are minimal Dr. Ko said, “headache, nausea, dizziness.., but if baby take (?) Tamiflu, they can die. In Japan, one or two babies were died taking Tamiflu.”

Dr. Ko showed little worry for those who seek medical attention for H1N1 after the two day period stating, “healthy people are not dangerous, but they will be unhappy. Like many other viruses and influenza viruses they live in our body for seven or ten days. That time is passed by, it disappears.”

The National and Provincial governments started a nationwide vaccination program on November 11th for elementary, middle and high school students. It will be completed by mid-December. “I am so angry,” said Dr. Ko concerning the governments’ response to the H1N1 pandemic, “because [they] have no other act. If I am government I stop school for one week. One week [would] stop virus from spreading.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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