The XXIII Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will take place in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea Feb. 9-25, 2018 and Feb. 9-18, 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, healthcare providers and individuals about preventive health measures for travelers to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Travelers 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 healthcare 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 travelers
a) Vaccine-preventable diseases
There are currently multiple ongoing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide, including measles, diphtheria, influenza and mumps. Travelers 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 travelers 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 feces. Travelers should also wash their hands often with soap and water. Travelers 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 healthcare 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 travelers 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. Travelers 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, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and other sexually transmitted infections is primarily limited to travelers engaging in sexual risk behaviors, 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.