Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Probable cases are declining: official

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Department of Health chief Twu Shiing-jer shakes hands with a doctor at the Cathay General Hospital in Taipei during a visit there yesterday. Twu met with the family members of Lin Chung-wei, a Hoping Hospital physician who has been infected with SARS and transferred to Cathay. Lin was in critical condition yesterday.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

A leading epidemiologist said yesterday while reported severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) cases have sharply increased, the number of probable SARS cases has begun to decline.

Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), professor of epidemiology at National Taiwan University and one of the team leaders of the Department of Health's (DOH) new task force to combat SARS, said reported SARS cases are growing.

Chen said the dates SARS cases are reported could no longer indicate the development of the epidemic.

"Now we have too many unverified cases at hand. It would take three to five days before we are able to examine these cases," Chen said.

Chen said he has changed the strategy for analyzing the development of SARS.

"I analyze the development of the epidemic according to the distribution of probable SARS cases' onset dates," he said.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director-General Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉), said the peak of the occurrence of probable SARS cases fell on April 27. Most of the cases were from Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital and Jen Chi Hospital, he said.

The number of probable cases confirmed on April 27 was 11. Since then, the number of probable cases has been dropping, according to the CDC.

However, Chen Chien-jen said although the number of probable cases has fallen, there is no time for complacency.

"We still have a lot of reported cases that need to be verified," he said.

The DOH's new task force consists of six teams. Chen Chien-jen was appointed as the head of the team in charge of epidemiology and surveillance.

To handle the sudden increase in reported SARS cases, Huang Fu-yuan (黃富源), former DOH deputy director-general, said hospitals have to accelerate the speed of sample testing in order to quickly identify SARS cases.

"In the greater Taipei area, the results of sample testing must be produced within 24 hours after submission," Huang said.

Huang also established a standardized procedure on how to treat patients having fever and coughing in order to relieve the huge burden of major medical centers, where patients showing SARS-like symptoms have increased.

Huang urged doctors to differentiate between ordinary flu and SARS rather than simply turning all patients showing SARS-like symptoms over to medical centers.

"Doctors need to take up their professional and social responsibility to screen SARS patients in the first place," Huang said.

Huang stressed medical centers could no longer afford to handle the overwhelming amount of patients with fever or SARS-like symptoms, who were referred to medical centers by their doctors.

Meanwhile, Lee played down political speculation why he, rather than DOH Director-General Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), was appointed by Premier Yu Shyi-kun to head the new SARS-combating task force.

When asked how he interpreted the Cabinet's appointment, Lee answered: "What interpretation? There is no interpretation. Perhaps it was because I am older [than Twu]."

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