Health Advice for Travellers to the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in the Republic of Korea

Joint advice from WHO and the Republic of Korea

The XXIII Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will take place in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea from 9 to 25 February 2018 and from 9 to 18 March 2018, respectively. Nearby Gangneung will also host events such as curling, hockey and ice skating.

The following recommendations are intended to advise national health authorities, health-care providers and individuals about preventive health measures for travellers to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Travellers to the Republic of Korea should also consult the travel advice issued by their national authorities and discuss health risks and preventive practices with their health-care providers prior to departure.

Potential health risks

The winter season in the Republic of Korea poses an increased risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Additionally, crowding of visitors indoors during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games could increase the risk of spread of infections.

Currently, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) is reporting an increase in seasonal influenza (influenza type B and A(H3N2)).

The country has also been experiencing outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N6) in birds and poultry. No human cases of A(H5N6) have been detected during these outbreaks and the risk of human infection is considered very low.

In addition, there is a small risk of the importation of other respiratory infections not normally seen in the Republic of Korea such as measles, diphtheria and human cases of avian influenza.

Mosquito and tick activity is low or non-existent at this time. The risk of vector-borne diseases during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is therefore considered very low.

The risk of food- and waterborne outbreaks is, in general, increased during mass gatherings when large numbers of people eat from commercial outlets, many of which may have been set up temporarily.

Recommendations for international travellers

a) Vaccine-preventable diseases

There are currently multiple ongoing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide, including measles, diphtheria, influenza and mumps. Travellers to the Republic of Korea are advised to consult their health-care providers to ensure they are up to date with the recommended routine immunizations prior to departure.

b) Respiratory infections including influenza

One important measure to reduce the risk of contracting seasonal influenza is vaccination.

Other measures to prevent getting and transmitting influenza and many other respiratory illnesses include:

  • Regular handwashing with proper drying of the hands
  • Good respiratory hygiene–covering coughs and sneezes with a medical mask, arm/elbow or tissue, and disposing of tissues correctly
  • Early self-isolation if feeling unwell, feverish and experiencing other respiratory symptoms
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people
  • Avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth

If you or a family member are experiencing severe respiratory symptoms (such as a cough, shortness of breath or pneumonia), it is advisable to contact health-care providers early and to report your travel history.

WHO advises travellers to countries with known outbreaks of animal influenza to avoid farms, contact with animals, entering areas where animals may be slaughtered, or contact with any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with animal faeces. Travellers should also wash their hands often with soap and water. Travellers should follow good food safety and good food hygiene practices.

c) Hypothermia, frostbite and other risks related to the cold

Exposure to cold conditions, whether indoors or outside, can cause a range of health effects, from light symptoms to serious or life-threatening health outcomes. During cold weather, people should:

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts and warnings
  • Seek advice from their health-care provider and, for those with chronic diseases, ask about specific risks and appropriate medication doses
  • Wear appropriate layers of warm, dry, clothing, and remember to cover the hands, feet and head
  • Consume warm meals regularly
  • Drink enough fluids, but avoid very cold drinks
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco, which increase the likelihood of adverse effects of cold weather
  • Exercise regularly, but take additional care when exercising or being physically active outside
  • Avoid standing or sitting still for long periods in the cold
  • Make sure the indoor air is sufficiently warm, with at least one room heated to 18–21°C (ideally living areas and bathrooms should be 20–22°C, and other occupied rooms 18°C)
  • Look out for warning signs on the skin from cold exposure (numbness in fingers and toes means the risk of cold injuries has increased and a pale spot on the face or other skin areas is a sign of a cold injury, so warm the area immediately, and protect the skin from further cooling).

Hypothermia, when a person’s body temperature drops due to exposure to the cold, can be life-threatening. Seek warmth and urgent medical care if you or a family member experience any of the following symptoms: shivering, confusion, memory loss, trouble speaking, fatigue or exhaustion.

d) Food and drink

The Republic of Korea has a well-established food safety system. However, it is advisable that travellers take precautions to avoid illnesses caused by unsafe food and drink. These precautions include ensuring hand hygiene through frequent handwashing or the use of hand sanitizer, especially before handling and consuming food. Travellers should be cautious about consuming uncooked food or food which has been kept at room temperature for several hours.

Drinking safe water is also important to stay healthy. If available, bottled water is the safer choice for drinking-water but always check the seal to ensure it has not been tampered with. When the safety of drinking-water is doubtful, bring it to a vigorous boil.

e) Sexually transmitted infections

The risk of infection with HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, herpes, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and other sexually transmitted infections is primarily limited to travellers engaging in sexual risk behaviours, especially unprotected sex, particularly with sex workers and people who inject drugs, and among men who have sex with men. Therefore, the adoption of safe sex practices, specifically consistent and correct condom use, is recommended.

If you are unwell or injured during your visit

Public health services including disease surveillance, communicable disease control and health protection (through water and air quality control) will be in place throughout the venues where the Games are held.

In PyeongChang, two polyclinics and 18 medical stations have been established in the athletes’ village to provide comprehensive medical care for athletes. Thirty-four medical stations have been set up to provide primary health care and emergency medical transportation for visitors (16 at competition venues and 18 at other sites). As visitors are expected to pay for their medical care upon treatment, it is recommended that those visiting the Games check their health insurance prior to departure to make sure it covers medical treatment in the Republic of Korea.

If you or a family member are experiencing symptoms of an infectious disease (such as diarrhoea, fever, rash, cough, vomiting, etc.) during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, please contact one of the following numbers:

  • Visitors who speak Korean can call the KCDC Call Center on 1339
  • Foreign residents who want to speak in other languages can receive consultation on infectious diseases through a three-party interpretation service provided by the Olympics Special Call Center (1330) or Immigration Contact Center (1345). For more information on the languages available and the hours of operation, please see the link below under “KCDC and related call centres”.
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