Travelers from the United States and Mexico are checked with a rapid antigen test at Incheon International Airport, Sunday to detect the swine influenza virus. The government decided to toughen inspections and quarantine from the countries since 81 people in Mexico have reportedly died after contracting swine flu.
/ Korea Times Photo by Hong In-ki
By Bae Ji-sook
The South Korean government convened an emergency meeting of policymakers Sunday to draw up measures against a new swine flu virus that sparked a deadly outbreak in Mexico and spread to the United States.
As an initial step, the government has decided to strengthen inspections on pork imported from Mexico and the United States.
The action came as a strain of the flu killed as many as 81 people and left more than 1,000 across Mexico sick. Another 11 people reportedly had probable cases of the infectious disease in the United States.
The World Health Organization has issued an emergency warning over the outbreak.
There are concerns that the virus, partially transmittable to humans, could be another ``Spanish flu,'' which killed hundreds of thousands of people in the early part of the 20th century.
Authorities has strengthened quarantines on people arriving from the relevant countries and warned outbound travelers about the virus. But eating pork is safe since it's cooked mainly under strong heat, according to the Center for Disease Control and Management (KCDC).
The Korean National Veterinarian Research and Quarantine Service said Sunday it would toughen inspections on sampled American and Mexican pork from Monday. ``There's no possibility that the meat will give people human swine flu, but the measure is expected to settle public anxiety toward the swine influenza A (H1N1), the newest strain of the virus detected,'' an institution spokesman said.
According to the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Korea imported 200 tons of Mexican and 28,700 tons of American pork in the first quarter. Per capita pork consumption totaled 19.6 kilograms last year.
``It's safe to eat pork as it's commonly heated above 71 degrees Celsius,'' a ministry official said.
The KCDC also advised outbound travelers to monitor their food consumption while traveling.
The Incheon International Airport quarantine office has toughened a rapid antigen test to screen out possibly affected people on the spot. Those detected will immediately be sent to hospitals for treatment and isolation.
``If anyone has a high fever, feels lethargic and sick, has a runny nose or severely itchy throats for a week after a trip, he or she is advised to report to the nearest public healthcare center,'' Shin Sang-sook, a KCDC official said.
The department also advised against contact with those with high fevers, to wash hands, feet and eyes after outdoor activities and to cover mouths when coughing in public.
The KCDC said it has secured Tamiflu and Relenza, anti virus drugs, for 2.4 million people.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the respiratory disease is caused by type A influenza, which regularly causes outbreaks of influenza among pigs. The disease rarely affects humans, with those with direct exposure to pigs at most risk.
Since March, a number of confirmed human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infections have been identified in the United States. No such cases have been reported here.