National Taiwan University Hospital reported mass infections of SARS for the first time yesterday and announced that the closure of its emergency room will be extended for another week.
The hospital yesterday reported a cluster of suspect SARS cases, including two nurses, one X-ray radiologist, a janitor, a registration worker, a patient and a patient's relative.
According to the hospital, all seven cases had once been in its emergency room. Chang Shang-chwen (張上淳), chief of the infectious disease department at the hospital, said the outbreak matched the broad definition of "hospital transmission."
"Actually, a hospital transmission occurred when our first doctor came down with SARS," said Chang, defining "hospital transmission" as a situation in which a person gets infected in a hospital.
The hospital was the first hospital to receive SARS patients. The doctor was infected by one of the first SARS patients to be sent there.
As a number of the hospital's staff and patients staying in the emergency room began to have SARS-like symptoms after April 30, the hospital said it would close its emergency room for a week on Monday.
Nevertheless, with the appearance of seven new suspected SARS cases, the hospital has decided to extend the suspension of its emergency room to May 26.
Around 250 people connected with the mass infection have been isolated.
The hospital said it was not sure how the seven suspected cases got infected.
"I can only say they all once stayed in the emergency room from April 30 to May 5," Chang said.
"One possibility is that a SARS patient with obscure symptoms has visited the emergency room. The patient might have infected others in the hospital," Chang said.
Chen Ming-fong (
"Some might have been infected before being admitted to our hospital," he said.
The hospital's emergency service has been stretched to the limit particularly after the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital was sealed off because of its outbreak on April 24, the hospital said.
From that day on, the hospital has received more than 2,000 fever patients, among whom 688 needed further verification to show whether they were SARS patients.
Chiu Shu-ti (
Chiu said the seven cases have been put in isolation wards. "The hospital has received many SARS patients and its workload was huge. The hospital has strengthened its disinfection work," she added.
Although the hospital reported suspect SARS cases before, the cases appeared sporadically. "It was the first time so many cases were reported simultaneously," Chiu said.
As for whether the hospital should be closed because of the outbreak, Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉), director-general of the Center for Disease Control, said it depends on the level of the outbreak.
According to the Department of Health, 31 people have died of SARS, there are 238 probable SARS cases and 265 suspected cases were reported nationwide as of yesterday.