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Ministry maps out plan to prevent human infections of AI

The government on Tuesday mapped out plans to tighten controls to prevent humans from being infected with a highly pathogenic bird flu strain, a week after it elevated its watch level from “alert” to “serious,” the highest level in the country’s disease control system.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Tuesday it has dispatched quarantine officials to monitor human infections and cull infected poultry at 42 sites across the nation.

Officials will also provide residents with 15,300 doses of antiviral drugs and 20,060 items of protective clothing in case the outbreak spreads to people, the ministry added. Currently, there have been no reports of infections through people or livestock.
Chung Ki-seok, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks Tuesday in a briefing held at Sejong Government Complex. (Yonhap)
Chung Ki-seok, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks Tuesday in a briefing held at Sejong Government Complex. (Yonhap)
“While the possibility of the bird flu infection spreading to humans is extremely low, simple but fundamental steps, such as washing hands for 30 seconds and avoiding visiting poultry farms or habitats for migratory birds can prevent the outbreak spreading to people,” said Chung Ki-seok, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a briefing.

“We also ask that citizens who find symptoms or suspicious cases visit ministry-designated hospitals. We appointed some 17 hospitals across the nation equipped with special sanitation facilities to report and treat cases immediately,” Chung added.

As of Monday, 9,183 people working at poultry farms or participating in the mass culling of poultry at the disease-hit areas had been vaccinated and classified as a high-risk group to receive state monitoring.

Authorities said 26 people among the high-risk group reported flu-like symptoms, but just one of them was confirmed with the H3N2 strain of the seasonal flu.

The highly pathogenic H5N6 strain of the flu is currently being examined at the National Institute of Environmental Research to find out if the outbreak can spread to people, authorities added.

The CDC said it also published and distributed guidelines for bird flu prevention measures in 14 different languages, including Thai, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and more, in an aim to help foreign workers in rural areas understand the situation and follow the measures.

Officials said that while the seasonal flu is sweeping the country at an alarming pace, it is theoretically possible for a human to catch both seasonal flu and bird flu infections, but it is very less likely for the outbreak to spread to people.

“The most significant step for people to prevent both (bird flu and seasonal flu) viruses is to wash hands often and eat heated food,” the CDC official said.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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