National Taiwan University Hospital yesterday revealed a suspected relapse case of SARS which, once confirmed, would be the first relapse in the country.
The suspected relapse patient, a middle-aged woman, sought medical treatment at the hospital on April 23 after developing a fever. She was reported as a suspected SARS case but left the hospital on May 12 after the fever had subsided for five consecutive days.
The suspected patient returned to the university hospital on Monday after she developed another fever and was hospitalized when the hospital found her lung X-ray showed abnormal developments. She was then listed as a probable SARS case.
"The middle-aged patient was allowed to leave the hospital because her fever subsided for five days and she met the health department's guidelines for discharge from hospitalization," explained Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), director of the hospital's Infectious Disease Department yesterday.
The patient had been under home quarantine after she left the hospital. She came out of quarantine a week later after she developed a fever and returned to the hospital.
Chang admitted that he was worried that the patient might have the capability to transmit the disease after she developed SARS symptoms again.
"But it is unlikely that other people contracted the diseasebecause she was under home quarantine right after she left the hospital," he said.
Chang said this case highlights why people should adhere to the strict home quarantine.
Chang said a final confirmation of whether the woman had relapsed or is suffering from another infection will have to wait until the tests have been completed.
"The seven-day duration between when the patient left the hospital and her second hospitalization indicated that she either relapsed or had contracted SARS a second time," he said.
Chang said that two other cases recovering from the illness had returned to the hospital after developing symptoms such as diarrhea, cough and shortness of breath.
In related news, hospital staff said an earlier case of a Guangdong-based Taiwanese businessman who died last January might have been Taiwan's first SARS fatality.
DPP Legislator Trong Chai (蔡同榮) said this was the first instance of a Taiwanese citizen dying of SARS in China, but the real cause of his death was concealed by Chinese authorities.
Huang's elder sister, a head nurse at the hospital, later confirmed that she thought her brother's sudden death in January, only two weeks after he returned to Guangdong, was related to SARS.
"My professional experience led me to doubt the Chinese claim that my brother died of tuberculosis in two weeks. The disease should not claim one's life in such a short period," the woman said.
She said Chang recently recalled her brother's death and found that Huang's X-rays showed evidence of SARS.
Huang urged the government to open an investigation into reported deaths of Taiwanese businesspeople in China over the past year as "indications of the outbreak may surface."