Health officials in S. Korea say flu vaccine has done its job, so far
December 21, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Officials in South Korea say the early arrival of the flu vaccine — and the large numbers of people getting the shot — have led to a surprisingly quiet flu season.
“We haven’t seen any cases yet with the actual flu,” said Maj. Renee Nelson, head of the 18th Medical Command’s community health office.
“We’ve been fortunate, as we haven’t seen the same strain as what is going around in the States. We have not been hit as hard as some areas there.”
A powerful strain of influenza is now widespread in 36 states and has been detected in all 50, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. But officials stopped short of calling the outbreak an epidemic. The flu season in the States is worrisome because it started two months earlier than normal, officials say, and began with unexpected deaths, particularly among infants. The CDC says the worst cases are being caused by the Fujian A strain, which normal vaccines are only partially capable of taming.
Military health officials in South Korea received flu vaccine shipments in October, weeks earlier than normal, Nelson said. The shots were given almost immediately, with priority given to active-duty soldiers, then civilians and family members.
“Being proactive — us getting the flu vaccine early and our constituents coming to get the shots — really fought off a lot of the complications the States is having,” Nelson said.
Officials also said they are not worried about soldiers possibly bringing other flu strains with them when they transfer to South Korea.
All incoming soldiers are given a health screening that will check for the flu virus, and they are given a flu vaccine shot as part of the inprocessing requirements when they land in country.
Another plus has been that South Korea in general has been spared, with health ministry officials yet to report a single flu case this season.
During an estimated infection period from October 2003 to April 2004, the Fujian A strain could enter South Korea from foreign countries and attention should be paid to prevent it from spreading, said officials from the South Korean National Institute of Health.
Keeping personal sanitation measures is very important to prevent the flu or other viruses from spreading, said Kim Bo-kyong, a researcher with the Infectious Disease Control Department of Korean Institute of Health. Flu vaccines are not a complete guarantee against the virus, she said.
“But, it’s not late to get vaccinated. And keeping clean can be the best safeguard against the flu,” said Kim.
Dr. Won Byong-hung of the Itaewon Clinic has not seen any patient infected with the flu yet, but he expects to see his first case in about a month at the latest.
There are not many Americans visiting the clinic, Won said, but about 10 percent of his patients are foreigners.
“The flu is very contagious and accompanies some severe symptoms such as a fever and a splitting headache. Coughing lasts pretty long, too,” Won said of the symptoms.
“Once infected, rest could be the only solution. Just stop working and take a break,” Won added.