As someone who enjoys traveling abroad, I should know that watching the news before a trip is tempting fate. Another disease outbreak was front and center, and it was exactly the place where I was heading: South Korea during the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in May 2015.
I couldn’t stop looking at reports and mentally tabulating the growing count of how many more people were being infected by MERS just before heading off to South Korea, but it didn’t deter me from going abroad and I don’t think it would deter most people. We can’t wrap ourselves in a bubble.
I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in the South Korean airport. Was it a code red situation with gurneys carrying the sick, wheeled across the airport floor? No, it was calm and many people were wearing face masks. The sale of face masks took off, creating a market for designer rhinestone-studded and Hello Kitty face masks. I did see signs that said that people were being thermo profiled and, if you seemed unwell, you were discreetly directed to another line. Little did I know, in my near future I would be working at IDRI on tuberculosis (TB), another respiratory disease.
I’m more informed about respiratory diseases, including TB, from my time at IDRI, where we are working on both new drugs and vaccines for that disease. I have a healthy respect for diseases, but I’m not frozen in fear either. Being a healthy individual in the first place is a good deterrent. The precautions of using a face mask or a scarf are good idea because some people — like those living in a “hotspot” environment — don’t have the luxury to move on and leave the threat of disease behind. (more…)