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Knowns and unknowns doctors face about coronavirus


By Bahk Eun-ji

As the coronavirus continues to spread, doctors are striving to find ways to fight this new virus, which has raised panic around the world.

The novel coronavirus has infected tens of thousands of people in China, with 28 confirmed cases here, and doctors are still struggling to track or predict its transmission pathways as the virus was previously unknown to scientists.

Korea's top infectious disease experts also said the novel coronavirus is not one scientists have encountered before and potentially developed over decades.

"Even if the virus and its hazards are fully unknown, our role in society is to give consultations based on our accumulated knowledge based on scientific grounds. However, even experts have various points of view for analyzing data when it comes to a new type of disease," said Peck Kyong-ran, president of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases in a meeting with a group of reporters at the society's building in Seoul.

The 11 doctors of the society shared their understanding of the new virus in a recent meeting.

The experts who participated in the meeting were Peck Kyong-ran professor of Sungkyunkwan Medical School; Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School; Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School; Sohn Jang-wook, professor of Korea University Anam Medical Center; Choi Won-suk, professor of Korea University Ansan Medical Center; Huh Joon-yeon, professor of Ajou University Hospital; Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses; Yoo So-hyun, professor of Gachon University Medical Campus, Lee Jae-gap, professor of Hallym University Kangnam Sacred Heart Hospital; Shin Young-shik, director of the National Medical Center's infectious disease department; and Song Young-goo, professor of Gangnam Severance Hospital.

Below are some questions asked at the meeting and the answers the experts gave to reporters.

Should the Korean government prohibit citizens from traveling abroad?

In addition to China, where the virus emerged, the Korean government has urged citizens to limit travel to Japan and to six regions in Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said they have all reported community transmission of the virus, based on a report released by the World Health Organization.

The government said the decision is a part of its efforts "to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in Korea from those who have visited other countries," which the experts all agreed was a positive measure in terms of virus control. However, many also said the treatment for the virus should be more focused on patients from regions where most of the cases have emerged.

"Control-wise, the spread of the virus can be contained when the inflow of the virus from outside is stopped. The restrictions on travel from regions which have reported transmission of the virus are reasonable in that sense," said Sohn Jang-wook, professor of the Korea University Medical Center.

Doctors of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases share their understanding of the new coronavirus during a meeting with a group of reporters at the society office in Gangnam, Seoul. From left, Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School; Peck Kyong-ran professor of Sungkyunkwan Medical School; Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School; Sohn Jang-wook, professor of Korea University Anam Medical Center; Choi Won-suk, professor of Korea University Ansan Medical Center; Huh Joon-yeon, professor of Ajou University Hospital; and Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses. /Courtesy of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases
Doctors of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases share their understanding of the new coronavirus during a meeting with a group of reporters at the society office in Gangnam, Seoul. From left, Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School; Peck Kyong-ran professor of Sungkyunkwan Medical School; Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School; Sohn Jang-wook, professor of Korea University Anam Medical Center; Choi Won-suk, professor of Korea University Ansan Medical Center; Huh Joon-yeon, professor of Ajou University Hospital; and Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses. /Courtesy of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases

What is difference between the symptoms of coronavirus infection and those of the common cold and flu?

"Many doctors actually have complained about the difficulties to distinguish the symptoms between the common cold and coronavirus infection. Symptoms of flu usually come with a high fever and muscle pain within a short period, but symptoms of coronavirus infection is usually a mild fever and light sore throat, which are similar to the ones of common cold," said Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School.

Kim said it is almost impossible to distinguish the coronavirus infection from symptoms of common cold in the early stage.

"So, in a sense, doctors' diagnosis is important in the early stages," Kim said.

What should individuals do first if they have suspected symptoms?

Even if a patient has tested negative at first, he or she may test positive the next day, or a week later. This shows how difficult to diagnose when symptoms are mild. Because it is a new disease, even experts are not sure which treatments work. Certain drugs to treat HIV have been known to be effective for the treatment of the new virus, but they have been still highly contentious due to the lack of scientific data at present.

"As we said earlier, doctors and hospitals do not have many things to do for those patients who have suspicious and mild symptoms, but this doesn't mean people should panic. If you are concerned about the disease and have light symptoms such as a slight fever and a sore throat, and you can't be sure if it is a viral infection or a common cold, we recommend you stay home first and monitor your symptoms for two or three days," said Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses.

She also said transmission in the early stage is possible because patients may not even realize they are sick. Many of those confirmed patients carried on with their daily lives for days or even weeks, unknowingly putting others at risk during that time.

"Anyone experiencing symptoms is strongly advised to stay home and avoid contact with others, because clinics and hospitals are places where people are highly likely to encounter infected people. Of course you should visit there when it is an emergency, but we recommend you to remain at home for safety reasons."

Is wearing a face mask effective?

Wearing masks can cover your nose and mouth. Because the virus spread through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, it certainly protects you from exposure. Although wearing a mask for protection is not yet scientifically proven, it is worth wearing one in crowded places such as hospitals and clinics for self-protection.

"But washing hands is the best precaution as it can significantly lower the risk of getting a respiratory infection. Touching your face or eating with unwashed hands should be avoided," said Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School.



By Bahk Eun-ji

As the coronavirus continues to spread, doctors are striving to find ways to fight this new virus, which has raised panic around the world.

The novel coronavirus has infected tens of thousands of people in China, with 28 confirmed cases here, and doctors are still struggling to track or predict its transmission pathways as the virus was previously unknown to scientists.

Korea's top infectious disease experts also said the novel coronavirus is not one scientists have encountered before and potentially developed over decades.

"Even if the virus and its hazards are fully unknown, our role in society is to give consultations based on our accumulated knowledge based on scientific grounds. However, even experts have various points of view for analyzing data when it comes to a new type of disease," said Peck Kyong-ran, president of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases in a meeting with a group of reporters at the society's building in Seoul.

The 11 doctors of the society shared their understanding of the new virus in a recent meeting.

The experts who participated in the meeting were Peck Kyong-ran professor of Sungkyunkwan Medical School; Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School; Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School; Sohn Jang-wook, professor of Korea University Anam Medical Center; Choi Won-suk, professor of Korea University Ansan Medical Center; Huh Joon-yeon, professor of Ajou University Hospital; Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses; Yoo So-hyun, professor of Gachon University Medical Campus, Lee Jae-gap, professor of Hallym University Kangnam Sacred Heart Hospital; Shin Young-shik, director of the National Medical Center's infectious disease department; and Song Young-goo, professor of Gangnam Severance Hospital.

Below are some questions asked at the meeting and the answers the experts gave to reporters.

Should the Korean government prohibit citizens from traveling abroad?

In addition to China, where the virus emerged, the Korean government has urged citizens to limit travel to Japan and to six regions in Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said they have all reported community transmission of the virus, based on a report released by the World Health Organization.

The government said the decision is a part of its efforts "to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in Korea from those who have visited other countries," which the experts all agreed was a positive measure in terms of virus control. However, many also said the treatment for the virus should be more focused on patients from regions where most of the cases have emerged.

"Control-wise, the spread of the virus can be contained when the inflow of the virus from outside is stopped. The restrictions on travel from regions which have reported transmission of the virus are reasonable in that sense," said Sohn Jang-wook, professor of the Korea University Medical Center.

Doctors of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases share their understanding of the new coronavirus during a meeting with a group of reporters at the society office in Gangnam, Seoul. From left, Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School; Peck Kyong-ran professor of Sungkyunkwan Medical School; Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School; Sohn Jang-wook, professor of Korea University Anam Medical Center; Choi Won-suk, professor of Korea University Ansan Medical Center; Huh Joon-yeon, professor of Ajou University Hospital; and Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses. /Courtesy of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases
Doctors of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases share their understanding of the new coronavirus during a meeting with a group of reporters at the society office in Gangnam, Seoul. From left, Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School; Peck Kyong-ran professor of Sungkyunkwan Medical School; Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School; Sohn Jang-wook, professor of Korea University Anam Medical Center; Choi Won-suk, professor of Korea University Ansan Medical Center; Huh Joon-yeon, professor of Ajou University Hospital; and Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses. /Courtesy of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases

What is difference between the symptoms of coronavirus infection and those of the common cold and flu?

"Many doctors actually have complained about the difficulties to distinguish the symptoms between the common cold and coronavirus infection. Symptoms of flu usually come with a high fever and muscle pain within a short period, but symptoms of coronavirus infection is usually a mild fever and light sore throat, which are similar to the ones of common cold," said Kim Nam-joong, professor of Seoul National University Medical School.

Kim said it is almost impossible to distinguish the coronavirus infection from symptoms of common cold in the early stage.

"So, in a sense, doctors' diagnosis is important in the early stages," Kim said.

What should individuals do first if they have suspected symptoms?

Even if a patient has tested negative at first, he or she may test positive the next day, or a week later. This shows how difficult to diagnose when symptoms are mild. Because it is a new disease, even experts are not sure which treatments work. Certain drugs to treat HIV have been known to be effective for the treatment of the new virus, but they have been still highly contentious due to the lack of scientific data at present.

"As we said earlier, doctors and hospitals do not have many things to do for those patients who have suspicious and mild symptoms, but this doesn't mean people should panic. If you are concerned about the disease and have light symptoms such as a slight fever and a sore throat, and you can't be sure if it is a viral infection or a common cold, we recommend you stay home first and monitor your symptoms for two or three days," said Kim Sung-ran, chair of the Korean Association of Infection Control Nurses.

She also said transmission in the early stage is possible because patients may not even realize they are sick. Many of those confirmed patients carried on with their daily lives for days or even weeks, unknowingly putting others at risk during that time.

"Anyone experiencing symptoms is strongly advised to stay home and avoid contact with others, because clinics and hospitals are places where people are highly likely to encounter infected people. Of course you should visit there when it is an emergency, but we recommend you to remain at home for safety reasons."

Is wearing a face mask effective?

Wearing masks can cover your nose and mouth. Because the virus spread through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, it certainly protects you from exposure. Although wearing a mask for protection is not yet scientifically proven, it is worth wearing one in crowded places such as hospitals and clinics for self-protection.

"But washing hands is the best precaution as it can significantly lower the risk of getting a respiratory infection. Touching your face or eating with unwashed hands should be avoided," said Kim Tae-hyong, professor of Soonchunhyang Medical School.


Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr


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