YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Severe acute respiratory syndrome may be on the decline, but the 8th Army’s medical command built a special quarantine unit just in case.

The 16-bed facility is housed near the 121st Hospital.

It went from design to construction in seven days and opened May 9, said Lt. Col. Marilou Overla, deputy chief of staff for logistics for the 18th Medical Command.

“You don’t want to wait until you have a problem to create something,” Overla said.

The facility hasn’t seen any patients, but the base wanted to ensure that potential SARS patients could be isolated from the main hospital to prevent infection, Overla said.

The building has two wards with eight beds each and an airflow system to prevent air exhaled by infected patients from seeping into the nurses’ station, Overla said.

About a dozen base residents who traveled to SARS-infected countries have been quarantined either in their quarters or another isolated area, said Lt. Col. Lee Hee-choon, chief of clinical preventive medicine.

None have come down with SARS, he said.

People fall into three categories: “probable,” “suspected” and “significant exposure,” Lee said.

Suspected means a person has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher plus respiratory symptoms, and probable means those symptoms have been confirmed by an X-ray, he said.

A traveler is considered to have had significant exposure to the disease if it is determined he or she has visited a hospital that cares for SARS patients, or has had direct contact with someone with SARS, Lee said.

A traveler may be restricted to quarters if he or she been to a SARS-afflicted country for more than two weeks, Lee said.

Medical personnel check on such people daily to see if they develop symptoms, he said.

“None of the people who have been quarantined have been sick,” Lee said.

Maj. Sean T. O’Mara, chief of emergency medicine at the 121st Hospital, said the base remains on alert in case SARS resurges.

“Even though the cases are going down, we want to remain vigilant,” he said.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now