Parents regretful of acting in panic over child with flu

Song Soo-youn  Published 2020.02.14  15:55  Updated 2020.02.14 15:55


When a two-year-old boy visited a local hospital due to fever and cough, the medical workers had a commotion. The boy’s mother was Vietnamese, not able to communicate with a physician in Korean comfortably. The doctor used a Google translator to find out that the boy was positive in an influenza virus test at another hospital.

The doctor did not know whether the influenza was type A or B. He managed to identify the name of the other hospital and confirmed that the boy was infected with influenza A. As the child had a high fever, the doctor had him hospitalized immediately. The boy was quarantined in a separate room due to the flu.

A problem ensued, however, as the parents and other guardians of the children patients staying at the same ward wanted their children discharged earlier than schedule just because the boy’s mother was a Vietnamese. The parents had unreasonable fears that the boy or his mother could infect their children with the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

The attending doctor explained to the guardians that the boy had flu, and there would be no problem because he was staying in an isolated room. He added that the boy or the mother did not have a history of overseas travel. However, the other guardians were still worried, saying the Vietnamese mother might have invited other people who could have visited risky places overseas.

This episode was what Ma Sang-hyuk, director of the Pediatrics Department at Changwon Fatima Hospital in South Gyeongsang Province, experienced recently.

“I was so embarrassed that I could not even look at the mother who had to hear such things just because she was a Vietnamese,” Ma said. “Real problem was these guardians would not even trust the doctor’s judgment.”

Local government workers spray disinfectants on the street to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Still, experts say it would be useless unless they wipe the surface with a disinfectant-moistened cloth.

Ma, who also serves as the head of the Infectious Disease Response Committee of the Korean Medical Association’s South Gyeongsang Province Branch, said local governments’ incorrect response to the new coronavirus magnified groundless fears. One example is spraying disinfectants on the street in each neighborhood, he said. It is just a “show,” and it neither eliminates the coronavirus nor relieves anxiety, he added.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) also told each local government not to use sterilizers in a spray form, in its guidelines for sanitizing collective facilities to prevent the new coronavirus. The guidelines state that instead of praying disinfectants, people should moisten a clean cloth or sterilized tissues with them to wipe out the surface thoroughly. The guidance warned that spraying them could turn infectious substances into infectious aerosols.

Ma also criticized some schools for suspending classes just based on a survey of parents without seeking expert opinions. Some elementary schools in Seoul also have decided to postpone classes, after a poll on parents.

“Such a decision not based on expert opinions can spread the panic in the local community,” Ma said.

The central government tried to assure the public to return to their normal life. Still, local governments sent a different signal, he noted. “It is quite odd to see local administrations make moves that spread fear, and, at the same time, ask the public not to panic and go back to normal,” he said

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