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KCDC prepares for possible disease outbreaks at 2018 Winter Olympics

Marian Chu  Published 2018.01.25  16:17  Updated 2018.02.06 18:37

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- Health authorities launch programs for infection control, prevention

The 2018 Winter Olympics will kick off in PyeongChang, South Korea, on Feb. 9 to host more than 2,000 athletes and hundreds of thousands of fans, visitors, and participants from around the world for the international sporting event.

Health authorities are now ramping up efforts to ensure the successful hosting of the international event by safeguarding against the possibility of infectious and potentially fatal disease outbreaks.

Local health authorities are preparing for a medically safe 2018 Winter Olympics that will kick off Feb. 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said Thursday that it would execute infection disease control training with the PyeongChang Olympic Organizing Committee, Donghae National Quarantine Station, and other local health authorities.

Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo and KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong observed the field training and preparations for the countermeasures against infectious diseases at the health center in Gangneung, Thursday, the KCDC said.

“Through on-the-job training, we will check the cooperation system between related agencies such as the central and local governments as well as the organizing committee,” KCDC Director Jung said. “We will do our utmost to ensure that all measures against infectious diseases, such as quarantine, surveillance, epidemiological investigation, and patient treatment and transportation, are carried out thoroughly.”

The programs will provide training on response measures to possible water-borne and food-borne infectious disease outbreaks as well as an avian influenza outbreak.

The Donghae National Quarantine Station will also check the coordination system of related organizations in executing a quarantine response and responding to outbreaks. The training will include educating personnel on how to react to hypothetical situations, such as if an individual exhibits symptoms of infection at an airport.

The KCDC has been carrying out publicity campaigns for the prevention of infectious diseases and checking the necessary items to deal with a possible outbreak response for the Olympics, it said.

The Korean National Tuberculosis Association (KNTA), for one, is carrying out an infectious disease management project with the organizing committee that focuses on providing free care for committee staff and volunteers.

Kyung Man-ho, chairman of the Korean National Tuberculosis Association, and Lee Hee-beom, chairman of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games and Winter Paralympic Games Organizing Committee, sign a business agreement to execute a infectious disease control project for the winter games.

“The health of the volunteers at an important international event directly impacts the success of the event,” the Korean National Tuberculosis Association said in a statement.

Prevention of infectious diseases among the organizing committee members is essential as they share living and working quarters and work with a large number of domestic and foreign visitors participating in the winter games, the association said.

International events are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks that rarely occur on a regular basis. The crowding of people from various countries in a single location attributes to the phenomenon.

The KNTA is mainly focusing on two primary diseases that frequently occur at international events – meningococcal meningitis and tuberculosis.

Meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial form of meningitis, is a potentially fatal infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, according to the World Health Organization. The disease symptoms are similar to that of a cold, which makes it difficult to detect.

But the disease can progress rapidly to death or cause debilitating aftereffects such as hearing loss and limb amputations without prompt treatment. According to the U.S. CDC, around 15 percent of those who survive had disabilities such as deafness, brain damage, and neurological problems.

In Korea, cases of meningococcal meningitis more than tripled during ceremonies when the country hosted significant international events, such as the 2002 World Cup, the association said. The number of meningococcal meningitis also rose more than three-fold in 2017 compared to the winter prior, with half of the cases occurring in teens and young adults.

Through the association’s “donation project,” KNTA is currently administering meningococcal vaccine injections to 20,000 staff members on a first-come, first-served basis.

KNTA's Double Cross Clinic, which has branches in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, Daegu, and Busan, will offer the services until the games kick off on Feb. 9. The organization will also launch the project at the Gangeung Health Center and the PyeongChang Daegwallyeong Health Center starting Friday.

KNTA will also offer other medical services for around 80,000 members of the Olympics organization committee such as chest X-ray tuberculosis screenings.

Korea has had the highest rate of tuberculosis among 34 OECD countries, with more than 30,000 new cases occurring each year. Around 2,000 people die from the disease annually, the association said. Tuberculosis spreads through respiratory secretions by coughing or sneezing.

The association and organizers will support the health management of the organizing committee to ensure a successful hosting of the Olympics, the organization said.

yjc@docdocdoc.co.kr

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