Pressure on the nation's hospitals from the SARS virus grew yesterday as Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei announced that seven medical employees have shown SARS-like symptoms, while Kaohsiung Chang Hung Memorial Hospital said it was closing its emergency department and all regular treatment services for two weeks as of today.
Mackay authorities stressed that all seven employees were exposed to the virus through contact with SARS patients, not from cross-infection. The seven included one doctor, four nurses, one respiratory therapist and one cashier in the emergency department. Four were listed as probable SARS cases while the other three are suspected cases.
"Every one of them had contact with SARS patients at different times and different places within the hospital," Mackay officials said. "Although they were all using proper protection when they treated the SARS patients, they still contracted the virus somehow."
"This is transmission via contact we are talking about here, not cross-infection within the hospital," the officials said.
According to the hospital, two of the nurses cared for a patient transferred from Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital. The two nurses have been found to have the SARS coronavirus.
The respiratory therapist had treated a nurse from Jen Chi Hospital who had SARS. The therapist later developed a fever but did not show signs of the coronavirus and is now in home quarantine.
The other four employees all treated a noodle-stall vendor from Hsinchuang on May 4, whose death has been attributed to SARS.
Mackay decided to ask Taipei City's Bureau of Health to put all those who had been to its emergency department on May 4 and May 5 under home quarantine -- a total of 95 people.
Meanwhile, health officials and researchers agreed that while Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital should shut its emergency department, it was not yet necessary to close the entire hospital, where over 100 staff members have been placed in isolation, including 15 with symptoms of the deadly disease.
Su I-jen (蘇益仁), director of the Division of Clinical Research at the National Health Research Institutes, and Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉), an Academia Sinica researcher, went to Kaohsiung two days ago to study the situation at the hospital and reached an agreement with hospital authorities to close some services.
They thought it unnecessary to close down the whole hospital and suggested instead that it should separate their SARS and non-SAR patients on different floors and that people from different floors should not be allowed to mingle.
"This is not yet time to close down the whole hospital, but we do not exclude the possibility, " said Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), leader of the Cabinet's anti-SARS task force.
Possible SARS patients at Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital are all now on the 13th floor, those with fever have been placed on floors 11 and 12, while non-SARS patients are on the floors below.
In related news, the Taipei City Government announced yesterday that Hoping Hospital -- now undergoing renovations -- would not become a SARS center, but it would remain as a community general hospital.
"Hoping will continue to be a community general hospital that takes in more SARS patients when needed," Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (