|Children make "songpyeon," half-moon-shaped rice cakes, at a community service center in Songpa-gu, Seoul, Thursday, ahead of Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving Day. Korea Times photo by Seo Jae-hoon|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Chuseok, one of the biggest holidays in Korea, is just around the corner. It is a great opportunity to spend time with relatives, but gathering with many people can cause unwanted consequences ― water- or food-borne infections.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) advised people to take caution against infectious diseases during family gatherings and tick bites while visiting family gravesites.
Water-, food-borne infections
Water- and food-borne infections can easily occur on Chuseok holiday because family members usually make and share many foods and they often store the food at room temperature.
Although food poisoning is common during summer, the daytime temperature is still high in September and special attention to food safety is still required to prevent food poisoning.
According to the disease control center, there were 432 cases of water- and food-borne infectious diseases reported this year before August, up 6.6 percent from last year's.
The health authority said washing hands before eating or preparing food is the best practice for food safety. People are also advised to wash raw vegetables in running water and peel fruit before eating. Even if food is cooked, it should not be left at room temperature for a long time.
People showing symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea should not cook to avoid infecting other family members.
This year especially, there has been a surge in hepatitis A infections across the country.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can be transmitted through contaminated food or water, or from close contact with an infected person. Unlike hepatitis B and C, it does not cause chronic liver disease but can cause symptoms such as fatigue, sudden nausea and fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure), which is often fatal.
The health authorities are raising concerns about the disease, as more than 13,700 cases have been reported this year. To reduce the risk of catching the virus, people are advised to wash their hands frequently, especially after using the restroom, and avoid raw seafood. When someone catches hepatitis A, the whole family should get vaccinated.
Consumption of raw or undercooked fish or shellfish should be avoided especially between August and October, as they transmit vibrio parahaemolyticus. People who have chronic liver disease or diabetes should avoid uncooked fish, and are recommended not to touch seawater while having wounds on the skin.
Scrub typhus and SFTS
Many people visit family gravesites as a part of ancestral rites on Chuseok. The gravesites are usually in mountain or rural area, filled with grass and trees. Scrub typhus, also known as bush typhus, is a disease caused by a bacterium called orentia tsutsugamushi, and people usually catch it through bites of infected chiggers (larval mites). Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches and sometimes rashes.
|People cut weeds around the grave sites of their ancestors at Youngrak Park in Busan, Aug. 25, before Chuseok, when they hold ancestral rites. Yonhap|
Tick bites are also dangerous. The blood-sucking mites are the cause of several infectious diseases including severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS), Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis.
Lyme disease is caused by bacterial infection passed through the bite of an infected deer tick. The symptoms of SFTS include high fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It can cause thrombocytopenia, leukocytopenia, neurological abnormalities and coagulopathy.
There are no vaccines or effective therapies for SFTS, so the disease control center strongly recommends those engaged in outdoor activities such as cutting weeds around graves, to wear long-sleeved shirts and use protective clothing to cover the skin. After such activities, they need to shower or bathe immediately to wash out the insects.
While cutting weeds, avoid wearing colorful clothes or hats so as not to get stung by a bee or bitten by a snake.