JoongAng Daily. March 24, 2004
By Wohn Dong-hee
South Korea has the highest tuberculosis death rate of the 30 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Health Ministry and the Korean National Tuberculosis Association said yesterday that 3,352 Koreans died of tuberculosis in 2002, making it the nation’s 10th most frequent cause of death.
“Although death rates have decreased, they are still relatively high compared to other developed countries,” said Lee Eun-gyu, the epidemiology director at the association. He said that there are no signs yet here of drug-resistant strains of the disease, which have become a problem in some other developed countries.
Koreans in their 20s and 30s were the most likely to contract the disease, which is spread mostly by airborne transmission. The ministry and the association cited the increase in the number of homeless people after the 1997-98 financial crisis here as having contributed to the persistence of the disease.
A vaccine is available for tuberculosis, but its effectiveness has ranged from zero to about 77 percent in different clinical trials. The strains now circulating in Korea can be cured by taking drugs for at least six months.
“The disease is seen as one found in underdeveloped countries,” said Lee Rae-gu of the ministry, promising more prevention efforts.