Friday, June 12, 2015

Viral Like MERS

Dear Korean,

Me and a friend of mine have everything booked. Flights, hotells, and more. But due to MERS. How safe is it to enter the country?


TK does wish that there was a viral disease that selectively destroyed grammar errors and poor spelling.

But onto MERS. Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is no laughing matter. Korea is now second in the world in the number of those who tested positive for MERS, clocking in at 138 patients, 14 of whom passed away. More than 3,600 people are under quarantine after having come into contact with MERS patients.

A wedding photo that will go down in history.

Is it safe to visit Korea? This is one of those questions that you should really ask your country's government rather than a random Internet stranger with a blog. In the case of the United States, Center for Disease Control issued a Level 1 advisory regarding MERS outbreak in Korea, essentially advising that it is ok to travel as long as one takes usual precautions like washing hands regularly.

This seems more or less correct. Although the number of the infected is high, Korean government has done a fairly decent job in actually tracing exactly how each patient came to be infected, for the most part. As can be seen from this kinda-awesome, kinda-terrifying infographic from KBS News, in nearly all cases the patients contracted MERS from a hospital. Vast majority of those who passed away were over 70 years old and in poor health

So it seems that as long as you are in good health and you have good hygienic habits, you would be more or less fine in Korea. Says a random Internet stranger who has absolutely no expertise in these matters. It might not be a bad idea to take a mask.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. It's safe here in Korea. The media has blown it out of proportion and now everyone is afraid. If you're not old and ill, you should have nothing to fear. You will see a lot of people wearing masks though. I think it's perfectly safe here in Seoul.

  2. Basically it is safe, but children, pregnant women and elderly people need stricter precautions.

    Yes, you will see people wearing masks every here and there, but here at the parts of Seoul where I live and hang around (Jang-wi dong, Mia, univ. of HUFS and surroundings), it's not like people are wearing any more masks than they do in winter when it's flu season anyway.

    The media hyped it high, and we had a wide emergency alert with the sirens and special phone messages, some elementary schools temporarily closed doors too. But it really doesn't feel like people are fearing that much.

    You do need to care a little more about hygene though! MERS IS a real disease after all, and the humid hot weather of a typical summer in Seoul might be a good environment for the virus to spread. But sweaty as you'll get, you'll want to wash yourself often anyway.

  3. Plus nobody has mentioned that all of the cases traces back to hospitals where the infections began (after a Korean man who got infected in Saudi Arabia, visited four hospitals). When you have so many sick people and healthcare workers gathered in one place, there's an increase risk of infections. All of the infected had extensive physical contacts, who were either healthcare workers or the families of the sick who cared for their sick loved ones. Of course there's certain risk that this could spread through contacts in underground trains and public transportations, but the infection rates are still lower compared to other diseases like SARS. Even if you get it, MERS symptoms look exactly like pneumonia. Most people don't die from pneumonia, you just get sick and recover in time. It's the very old and very sick people in hospitals who need to worry. The media in Korea has exasperated the situation by blowing this way out of proportion. MERS had outbreaks in middle east, and Saudi Arabia leads the world in MERS deaths (with 40% death rate), yet there hasn't been similar levels of panic nor world media coverage as there has been in Korea with 10% death rate. Just another reminder for everyone once again, all the deaths in the Middle East and Korea, were hospital related infections and deaths.

  4. I have a suggestion as well. Carry hand sanitizer. I know in the US you might have to put some in your big bag. I'd hope they sell it in Korea. Maybe some wipes, since you might run into bathrooms in crowded places with no soap or paper towels. Find some that are food safe so you can wipe of utensils and surfaces. It might be considered rude but foreigners usually get a bit of leeway for not knowing all the rules. Travelers will undoubtedly often run into some problems with eating local food. A lot of Korean food is really spicy, the fermented stuff might be completely different from what you eat on a regular basis. Believe me when you start eating a lot of stuff like kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso your gut might notice. Also Koreans have a food culture that is based on sharing food. Koreans eat side dishes with their meals, they're communal side dishes. You likely won't be sharing with anyone you don't know but I know Americans that won't share with their own family members off the same plate. Many of the restaurants have chopsticks and spoons set out on the table in containers. They may not be disposable and sealed in plastic like Americans see all the time. People reach in and touch them. Obviously not a huge problem if you aren't a germaphobe and in relatively good health. I won't argue how safe this practice is because it just is what it is, that's what you may find. Just like anywhere you go if something looks sketchy don't touch it or don't eat there. Also, you can wear a mask. You can pick one up when you get there. You won't stand out because you're wearing a mask. There's no way I'd cancel a trip to Korea unless Kim Jong un was lobbing really big shit over the border, a huge typhoon was coming or people were dying by the thousands.

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