Monday, October 19, 2009

Herpes and Health Checks

Here's the question:

I have a question about the health check for the E2 visa. Do you know how detailed the blood tests are? Are they only looking for HIV/AIDS or will they also be concerned with HSV1/ HSV2 (the 2 types of herpes)? These are conditions that also come up in blood work, but do you know if they are looking for them? Or if found, would it result in termination of your contract??

I wrote about something similar to this before, so check that out as well.

The blood tests are only looking for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and narcotics. At least, that's the stated purpose of the tests. However, the main goal is to detect communicable diseases which, if found, will result in the termination of your visa and contract.

I don't think we're talking about simple cold sores here. The question would not have been posed over a little sore. I assume that since the questioner is asking about this, it's safe to assume that they personally have one or both types of herpes (or are asking for a friend). I don't want to judge this person's character because contracting an STD is a tragic story in many cases, but it's also an avoidable consequence of careless behavior in others. I hope that this case isn't the latter and that we are dealing with a responsible person who is not trying to slide under the radar.

From what I can gather, simple blood tests will show the presence of HSV, but it's difficult to determine whether it's the not-so-horrible kind (HSV1 or cold sores) or the holy-fuck one (HSV2 or genital sores). Even though both can cause oral or genital herpes, HSV2 is much more painful and just plain unsightly.

Let's pretend that the test didn't reveal the presence of herpes and since the doctor doesn't give you a physical or anything, you might get away with it. Of course, that plan might backfire and you could be sent packing at your expense. The rub here is more ethical though.

You will be asked if you have a communicable disease. In fact, you'll be asked five questions:

* Have you ever caught infectious diseases that threaten Public Health before?
* Have you ever taken any Narcotic (Drug) OR Have you ever been addicted to alcohol?
* Have you ever received treatment for Mental/ Neurotic/ Emotional Disorder?
* Are OR were you HIV (AIDS) positive?
* Have you had any serious Diseases OR Injuries for the last 5 years?

In this case, the questioner has caught an infectious disease and therefore has a responsibility to answer honestly. My advice is to consider teaching elsewhere. I know that might sound harsh or like I'm discriminating against people with STD's, but the law is very clear about who does and doesn't medically qualify and having genital or oral herpes certainly disqualifies an applicant.


Chris in South Korea said...

Tricky situation - not unlike many others you might find yourself in while in Korea? Found out while dating more than one person, caught teaching private lessons, and being gay are only three that come to mind.

The simplest answer is to know for yourself. If you've gone for a test, been diagnosed with something, you have a moral obligation to tell people who need to know (paperwork, future partners, etc.). If, however, you DON'T know and you suspect something, it's worth finding out.

Regarding teaching in other countries, check what their medical procedures are - I can't believe every country is as strict / obsessed with foreigner health, or lack thereof.

The Expat said...

Those certainly are tricky situations, but this one is a little more serious than the issues in mentioned, at least in terms of public health.

I have a feeling that the questioner knows of their condition and is probably very responsible when it comes to protection and disclosure, but this issue isn't really about that.

As you mentioned, Korea is obsessed with foreigner health and it appears that the questioner is also aware of that. The question now becomes: Do you want to risk the cost and perhaps even embarassment of coming to Korea only to be kicked out?

youseok said...

Don't forget to be careful Korea is teh rapen capital of Asia.

youseok said...


The Expat said...


I'm not a fan of the methods you employ to get the message out that Korea has a rape problem. The expat community is very aware of the dangers of sexual violence and light sentencing in Korea and while I think it's good to point out the problems with it, I see your tactics more as masturbatory self-promotion mixed with agression towards Korea under the guise of keeping people safe.

kushibo said...

I just wanted to point out that in addition to being obsessed with foreigner health, Korea is also obsessed with Korean health. Not about everything, but the mandatory annual physicals required in many companies and other semi-invasive health policies were in place long before Korean policymakers discovered that the 1 million or so foreign nationals had been flying under the radar. The obsession with foreigner health is largely a case of playing catch-up.

The Expat said...

It seems that they are more obsessed with healthcare and tests than actual health, i.e., habitual smoking, binge drinking, not taking sick days and the questionable prevalence of handwashing.

Gomushin Girl said...

I have to dissagree here that the writer is under any obligation to answer yes to the first question. Genital herpes is a manageable disease that is not easily communicated except to sexual parners (i.e. you're not going to pick it up from the jjimjilbang or a toilet seat) and so really, not a major threat to public health. Of course, I feel strongly that HIV positive individuals should also not suffer any travel restrictions, nor generally should any person who suffers from manageable diseases with known, non-airborn vectors of transmission.

The Expat said...


I totally agree with you that it's manageable and that there shouldn't be any restrictions, but it's not up to you or me. I'm quite confident that if a doctor or school found out that a new teacher had an STD (regardless of its seriousness), there would certainly be a push to have them removed. Imagine what parents would do if they found out a teacher had an STD.

Perception trumps reality.

아만다 said...
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아만다 said...
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아만다 said...

Take issue with the last paragraph of your advice.

According to the CDC, half of all sexually active adults, male and female, get HPV at some point in their life. But there is no test for HPV in men. So women with HPV shouldn't teach in Korea just because there's a test and the female half of the species can know they have it? Meanwhile, the HPV carrying men get to come to South Korea and spread their STD just because they don't know they have it?

The health form I had to fill out also asked if you're in any meds. There are multiple medical reasons a woman might take birth control pills. None of which have to do with being sexually active. So a woman is supposed to disclose that in a country where a woman taking the pill before marriage will be seen as a slut?

Hell no.

The only "responsible" thing an expat has to do in Korea is lie when they know that such information will be used against them.

kushibo said...

But there is no test for HPV in men.

When was it established that they're testing for HPV?

There are tests for men as well (I worked on a longitudinal study of HPV in men and subjects' samples were tested to determine if they were HPV-positive or not), but HPV detection tests are too expensive to be routine. I think they might even be too expensive for women, as well, which is why HPV vaccination has been the chosen public health route.

I doubt women are going to be picked off for HPV and men are not.

kushibo said...

The Expat wrote:
It seems that they are more obsessed with healthcare and tests than actual health, i.e., habitual smoking, binge drinking, not taking sick days and the questionable prevalence of handwashing.

I think you're shifting "they" there. When I wrote "Korea," I was referring to public organizations, which are very concerned about foreigners' and Koreans' health and the things you mentioned.

But if your "they" is simply the ones who aren't concerned about the health effects of smoking, binge drinking, drunk driving, lack of handwashing, etc., then you'd no doubt find lots.

But if that's the criteria, there's no point in discussing anything. I live on a college campus, so I could easily round up a bunch of Americans around me who are not all that concerned about smoking, taking drugs, binge drinking (oh, the binge drinking), and even, yes, lack of handwashing (you'd be surprised), but none of that negates that state and Federal agencies are concerned/obsessed about these things are doing something about it.

The "shifting they" is a serious problem in discussions in these parts. If, for example, someone says, "Oh, the government is concerned about migrant workers' health because they've subsidized clinics set up exclusively for foreign workers without insurance to come into with no questions asked," and then someone retorts with, "But so many Koreans hate these illegal aliens," it doesn't negate the first point. (And then again, neither does the first point negate the second point.)

They're talking about two different things. Public health agencies in Korea being concerned about communicable diseases among incoming residents is not negated by kindergartners not washing their hands after they pee.

아만다 said...
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아만다 said...

I'm going by his last five questions and his last paragraph.

"In this case, the questioner has caught an infectious disease and therefore has a responsibility to answer honestly."

HPV IS an infectious, communicable virus which can cause multiple cancers and warts and the like. If ATE thinks that someone with a COLD SORE had better answer this thing honestly, than obviously those HPV-infected individuals are out, too.

And my info on there being no test for men was straight from the CDC.

"Currently, there is no test designed or approved to find HPV in men. "

Gomushin Girl said...

HPV is usually only detected in men if changes become visually apparent in the skin. So yes, some men know they have it (or figure they almost certainly do because their partners have tested positive) but there's no test for it.
That said, they're not testing for it. Nor do I think they're testing for Herpes. As far as I know from reading visa application materials, they're concerned with HIV/AIDS and TB mostly - only the latter of which do I really think immigration needs to be concerned with.

The Expat said...

Certainly, but just because Immigration doesn't test for it, I feel like someone with any communicable virus has a responsibility to report it.

Will they? Doubt it.

Gomushin Girl said...

You're concentrating too much on the first part of this sentence and not at all on the second: "Have you ever caught infectious diseases that threaten Public Health before?" If I keep my herpes and my HIV and my HPV and my noxious-looking rash to myself by taking proper precautions, then I am not threatening public health. On the other hand, measures that discourage people from being tested (like fear of deportation, social stigma, etc.) ARE a danger to public health, as even the Korean domestic health agencies recognize.

Sharon said...


1 in 4 sexually active teenagers become infected with an STD every year, in the United States alone. Now, more than ever, we need to join together to fight this growing issue. As I read through your website, it is clear that you share the same passion for STD/STI awareness. We here, at, understand the importance of STD/STI prevention and treatments. If you could, please list us as a resource or host our social book mark button, it would be much appreciated. We can not reach every teenager, but together we can try.
If you need more information please email me with the sublect line as your URL.

Thank you,
Sharon Vegoe

Leif said...
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Leif said...

i think this is some kind of ugly discrimination, and of course, this is wrong in any levels,you can't deny someone the visa or any other document just because they're sick, is like you can't have it for using viagra online right? if you have erectil problems, you can't travel..?

Nicholas & Jessica said...

I am a little confused. So does the E2 Health Check in South Korea test for herpes or not? I don't think the guy got a straight yes or no answer.

Fearn said...


I just have to say that your article is extremely judgmental in regards to people with herpes. I acquired it while practicing safe sex and for you to say such terrible things is completely disrespectful. We don't need to hear your opinion about the disease, just your opinion about the E2 visa.

Victoria said...

So should I even bother applying to teach in Asia if I have herpes? I've only had 2 partners in my life both in a long term relationship. The guy who gave it to me had no symptons at all and he didn't even know that he could spread it since he thought everyone had it and he got it from his mom when he was little. I have a degree, and experience working with children, I also have my TESOL. So is my dream to teach overseas completely useless since I have herpes now?? :( Mine was from a cold sore to the down there :(

Kelsey said...

I'd have to agree with you on the "stated purpose of the tests." I don't know my blood type and was wondering if it was on the form, and they didn't check for it since it didn't matter to them.

I wish there was a complete translation of the form somewhere. I posted a blog with as much as I was able to translate via online medical dictionary, but even using that, I couldn't get it all figured out.

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Nira Bee said...

Unless anyone comes back with hard evidence that this is wrong, the question's wording has been misread.

It asks: Have you ever caught infectious diseases that threaten Public Health before?

Correct threaten to threatened and we find that the type of diseases that they are asking/testing for epidemics or things that are passed very easily through the air or blood like Cholera, Viral Hepatitis A, AIDS, Tuberculosis, and the like.

Herpes is prevalent but, not deadly. Not an epidemic.

Should be fine.

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