Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Officials warn not all thermometers measure accurately


Public officials yesterday recommended consumers use mercury thermometers as a SARS early-warning device, as the low-priced instruments are more accurate than expensive electronic ones.

"To precisely measure a fever, consumers should use mercury thermometers, which have the lowest margin of error," Hung Chuan-hui (洪權輝), an official with the Ministry of Economic Affairs's Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection told the Taipei Times yesterday.

To prevent the spread of SARS, most government offices and companies began late last month to require all staff and visitors pass temperature checks before entering buildings. People with a fever -- a temperature over 37? or 38?C -- are refused entry.

Hung pointed out that among various thermometers on the market, the bureau recommends the mercury ones -- not electronic devices -- because there is no worldwide standard for the electronic ones.

Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏), secretary general of the Consumers' Foundation (消基會) also urged people to use mercury thermometers rather than trust the electronic ones.

Using mercury thermometers is time-consuming, however, and so may not meet the needs of door-side checks, considering the number of people passing in and out of the average building daily.

Some businesses, desperate to purchase any thermometer they can get their hands on, are even employing devices not designed for use on humans.

"The model commonly being used in office buildings here in Taiwan is the Radiant TN105, which was used on me at the McDonalds on Nanking East Road and is being used in my building," businesswoman and long-time Taipei resident Lee-anne Simpson said yesterday.

"On Monday morning, I was checked by such a device when entering a parking lot as [being] 21.8?C. I told the parking attendant that I'd be dead by that fig-ure," she said.

Simpson complained that the small pen-lite sized gadget repeatedly proved itself inaccurate.

"The guard then rechecked and the reading was 25.6?. A third check was 26.8?, which is a variance of five degrees over approximately two minutes," she said. "If you're not going to go it properly [measure temperatures], you shouldn't do it at all."

An official at Radiant Innovation Inc (熱映光電), maker of the Radiant TN105, said readings from the product provide only a reference for consumers, rather than a medical diagnosis.

The firm has been sold more than 10,000 of the devices locally, according to its business manager Winston Wu (吳孝彬).

The thermometers are designed for measuring room temperatures and the temperature of liquids such as baby formula.

Department of Health spokes-woman Chi Hsueh-yun (紀雪雲) acknowledged that the various electronic thermometers are not accurate, but said the daily temperature checks should continue.

"Although the government has not spelled out quality standards for electronic thermometers, I believe products from brand-name manufacturers would not cross the line too far for the sake of their own reputations," Chi said.

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