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A sign posted outside the 121 General Hospital warns people not to enter if they have SARS-like symptoms. The 121 General Hospital is the only U.S. military medical facility in Korea.

A sign posted outside the 121 General Hospital warns people not to enter if they have SARS-like symptoms. The 121 General Hospital is the only U.S. military medical facility in Korea. (Greg L. Davis / S&S)

SEOUL — A U.S. servicemember and four of his family members were quarantined after returning to South Korea with suspected symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome, officials confirmed Thursday.

The unidentified family was quarantined at home for 10 days, said Capt. Sean O’Mara, chief of Emergency Medical Services at Yongsan Garrison’s 121st Medical Hospital.

He said the family no longer is in quarantine.

“They were evaluated by a physician who listened to their risk factors, asked pointed questions … and arrived at a determination that it was in the public’s best interest — as well as the patients’ best interest — to self-quarantine,” O’Mara said.

“They haven’t had any … progression or need for further treatment,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that SARS wasn’t present. … It could just be they were part of the 95 percent who are expected to have complete, spontaneous recovery.”

O’Mara is on a team of from 25 to 30 U.S. military medical personnel across the peninsula focusing on preventing the possible spread of SARS.

He said medical personnel hold a daily video teleconference to discuss the latest developments and current issues, including information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

The local command, O’Mara said, “recognized … it is worthwhile to have a strong prevention program in place before SARS occurs.”

He said the command is inviting people who travel to SARS-infected areas, or feel they’ve been in contact with a SARS-infected person, to call a hot line, 737-SARS, after they return from travel. Affected are China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Toronto.

He said free evaluations will be provided. “We provide them with specific information in the form of handouts that are necessary and helpful … concerning SARS symptoms, potential complications, guidance for self-treating, what to watch for and what to do with potential complications,” he said.

O’Mara said the military community is working with South Korea’s government to share SARS information. He said the military community is frequently cited as a “high population density environment,” which represents particular concerns with SARS.

“Public awareness and education is a large part of our efforts to educate the military community about … SARS, how it spreads, how it’s contracted and how it may present,” he said.

He also said a key part of the effort is to encourage the public to cooperate and quickly seek medical evaluation if concerns develop.


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