Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Scientists uncover genetic mutation

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Patients and healthcare workers from Building A of the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital look out from bus windows as they leave for a new location in Hsinchu after being quarantined at the hospital for 12 days.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSRONG, TAIPEI TIMES

Virus samples taken from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) patients by researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital were found to be genetically different from ones taken in Hong Kong, the university said yesterday.

Since April 24, more than 400 suspected SARS patients have visited the hospital to seek treatment. So far, more than 80 probable and suspected SARS patients have been hospitalized there.

According to Yang Pan-chyr (楊泮池), director of the department of internal medicine at the university, researchers at the hospital had confirmed the genetic sequence of the SARS virus present in probable cases admitted to the hospital.

"The virus discovered in Taiwan is a newly mutated species of the one found in Hong Kong," Yang said. "However, we don't yet know the implications of the mutation."

Yang said scientists still need to compare the genetic sequence collected at the hospital with samples taken at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital, which was sealed off last month following a virus outbreak.

Meanwhile, to effectively prevent the spread of SARS at the university hospital, new measures were were put in place yesterday. Hospital management is encouraging personnel to take regular leave and has told staff, especially those who have worked in SARS infectious areas, not to talk face-to-face with journalists.

The majority of hospitals are refusing to take suspected SARS patients.

Yesterday, the Armed Forces Sungshan Hospital, one of the nation's designated SARS clinics, was unable to transfer 15 stabilized SARS patients to Taipei Municipal Yangming Hospital due to lack of space.

According to Lee Chien-hsien (李建賢), head of Sungshan Hospital's SARS task force, the temperatures of the 15 patients remain normal and their chest X-rays show no abnormalities.

"They were meant to be transferred to Yangming Hospital for a five-day quarantine," Lee said. "If we are eventually able to transfer them, after they have spent five days in Yangming Hospital they will be sent home for an additional 14-day quarantine."

Earlier, 10 suspected SARS patients at Sungshan were transferred to Yangming Hospital for further quarantine.

Lee said that psychiatric experts were working with the 15 patients. As of press time yesterday, Taipei City Government was still working to get them admitted into Yangming Hospital.

City governmental officials said that Yangming Hospital held 53 suspected SARS patients.

Officials at the Department of Health said yesterday that hospitals around the country will offer 2,676 beds for the treatment of SARS, of which 1,457 are not yet available.

Most beds currently available are in southern Taiwan.

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