Saturday, May 30, 2009

Swine flu cases in South Korea up to 35, including more English teachers

I started writing a small blog post late last night before I went to bed, regarding Xinhua reports that South Korea's H1N1 swine flu cases had jumped to 33, with that two-thirds American ratio holding steady. But in the middle of the night (Hawaii time), the virus struck two more people (actually, they were probably infected days ago, histrionics aside).

The original Xinhua article about Carriers 31 through 33 is short, so here it is in its entirety:
SEOUL, May 28 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's health authorities confirmed one more case of A/H1N1 flu virus infection, raising the confirmed cases to 33.

A 33-year-old South Korean man, who had arrived from New York, was confirmed with the flu infection, the authorities said.

Three additional cases of the flu, two of whom are Americans and one is a South Korean student who were studying in the United States, were confirmed with the virus earlier in the day.

South Korea has reported 33 cases of the A/H1N1 flu since the first case was confirmed in late April.
I don't know if the two Americans are English teachers, but we do know that the virus attacks E2 visa holders in disproportionate numbers. Seriously, though, a large proportion of people arriving in South Korea right now are South Korean nationals returning home for the summer from study in the US and English teachers arriving for teaching assignments.

Now what's odd about all this is that Xinhua has this news about Korea's rising case, but if you do a news search on English-language sites for swine or h1N1 and Korea, you get a lot of old stuff but no new numbers. It's not as if South Korea is hiding the news. Here is a Health Herald article about #32 and #33:
Three more cases of H1N1 influenza A were confirmed on 21 May and the total number of infected people rose to 33 in Korea.

According to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs(MHWAF), one is a 30-year-old South African male from the same language institute at which a total of 19 flu-infected English teachers work.

Another is a Korean woman, who returned from the United States. And the other is a man, who returned from the United States last weekend.

The World Health Organization(WHO) announced that 46 countries have officially reported 12,954 cases of influenza A, which have resulted in 92 deaths.<헬스코리아뉴스>
Xinhua and the Korean sources may be talking about different people who are infected, but it seems their facts don't exactly match. Xinhua, apparently some sort of travel agency, isn't exactly objective when it comes to coverage of whipping boy rival South Korea, but the Korean press is also reporting thirty-five cases, so for now I'll take it at face value.

In that context, take note of how one of the above links suggests a man from Guangzhou became infected:
The man developed a sore throat on May 24 after he flew from New York to Guangzhou, via Incheon City in the Republic of Korea. On Monday and Tuesday, he and his girlfriend spent two days with studio workers, including the beautician, to take bridal photos.
There is something to that claim. Airplanes and airport transit areas are hotbeds of contact for utter strangers from all parts of the world. It appears that many of the infected English teachers we've heard so much about may have been infected in transit at Narita Airport near Tokyo.

I know the peanut gallery likes to talk about this as being an overreaction, but it's like I said before: Public health people are called incompetent for their failures and chicken little when they're successful. This bout of swine flu has a 0.7% mortality rate: one out of 140 confirmed cases have died. That is some seven to ten times higher than "regular" influenza. This is the beginning of a major travel season, and having reasonable — even though somewhat invasive — safeguards in place (self-quarantining of people who have traveled abroad, regular health readings like temperature, avoiding public places when possible) may be what keeps this at a manageable hum instead of a full-blown pandemic. In terms of how these things go, this may be just the beginning.

Ah, who am I trying to kid, when you're on the cusp of a potential global pandemic, the best way to proceed is to fight hysterics* with histrionics, because cries of "racist" and threats to destroy the livelihood of businesses is always the way to go.

* Unless health agencies or some other legitimate authority have directed them to do so, people should not give up their passports to their employer, and that should only be done in the rarest and most extreme of circumstances which we are not experiencing at this time. That much I agree with, but the fact is that for now English teachers have been the main vectors and anyone who is a carrier is a direct threat to children. Nevertheless, the Korean press has made it quite clear that Koreans coming from abroad are also potential carriers. Get over the xenophobic/racist angle already. It's tired and old and completely unhelpful.

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