What's the deal with the scar that most Korean women have on their upper arms? Is it from a shot? Can I touch it?
Ha! Yeah, you can touch it, but don't get weird with it.
I think many teachers here wonder about this and since it's pretty safe to say that most of us aren't doctors or medical students, it is totally common to be curious about those scars. The scar tissue is from a shot, however, there is a lot of speculation as to which vaccine left such a mark, but after talking to students and cross-checking their stories, it has become clear that the scars are from smallpox inoculations.
Smallpox has a long history in Korea and was treated as the works of demons when first introduced to the peninsula by the Chinese in 583. It was so bad in Korea back then that only one percent of Koreans made it to adulthood without contracting the disease. Of course, the 20th century was nothing like that, but there was still a concern as new strands of the old disease started creeping up around the globe. The 1950s and 1960s saw a steep rise in cases and in 1967 the WHO estimated that more than 60% of the world's population could be threatened. Korea did not take that threat lightly and inoculated most children born from 1953 to 1990. The common type of scar that can be seen on women AND men is called a hypertrophic scar although it should be noted that the shots can also cause the more gruesome keloid scar.
The only other type of shot that was very common during the second half of the 20th century in Korea was the measles shot. However, it is very unlikely that the scars are from measles shots because in order for such scars to appear, there must be an allergic reaction and I just can't imagine that every Korean had the same reaction to the shot.
On that note, I should add that if you teach kids now, you have certainly seen the domino-like 3-by-3 pattern on most of your young students arms. That is a new type of measles inoculation being used today. Luckily, it. Luckily, traces of the shot disappear by adolescence. They started to be used a lot in the late 1990s and early 2000s as some outbreaks started to gain momentum.
Some advice for those of you with close Korean friends. Most women don't like it when their scars are pointed out, so know that you know what they are, ignore it. The men usually don't care, but it's just better to leave it alone.
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