Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Sick USCDC expert heads for home

SUDDEN REPATRIATION A well-wrapped up Chesley Richards boarded a chartered jet to return to Atlanta, Georgia after he developed both a fever and cough

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH AGENCIES

A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC) expert who fell ill this week and was listed as a suspected SARS case on Thursday left for the US yesterday on a specially chartered plane, leaving behind controversies over his actions and his repatriation.

A Gulfstream G-1159 jet arrived at Taipei's Sungshan Airport yesterday morning from a US military base in Okinawa to pick up Chesley Richards Jr., a 42-year-old epidemiologist who has been in Taipei since May 15 to consult with the government on fighting the SARS epidemic.

Richards boarded the plane without assistance, garbed from head to toe in protective gear, after arriving at the airport in an ambulance from Shin Kong Wu Ho-su Memorial Hospital.

The ambulance drove directly to the airport apron and parked several meters from the plane to allow Richards to board the aircraft with as few people around as possible.

The jet was to fly to Atlanta, Georgia, where the USCDC is headquartered, via Russia.

Also on board were three of Richards' colleagues, who have taken care of him and were placed in quarantine as a result, also wearing in protective gear.

On Tuesday, Richards developed a fever above 38?C after spending several days inspecting hospitals in Taipei where SARS patients are being treated.

At that time, according to local health officials, Richards took some aspirins to bring down his fever.

On Thursday, Richards was hospitalized after developing a fever above 38?C again, in addition to a cough and muscle aches.

Although an initial diagnosis by health officials here suggested that Richards does not have the SARS virus nor any symptoms of pneumonia, the USCDC decided to bring him home for further treatment.

Richards treating his initial fever with aspirin has sparked controversy here, as did the decision to send him back to the US.

Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), head of the SARS-prevention command center under the Cabinet's SARS Response Committee, said yesterday that Richards actions were based on his own professional judgment.

But the former director of Taipei City's Bureau of Health, Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川), who is heading an investigation into the SARS outbreak in this country, yesterday said Richards' behavior sent the wrong message.

"In terms of SARS, if one has a fever, the first two days are the most crucial time interval to receive treatment," Yeh said.

Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said yesterday that the arrangement to send the American expert home conforms to regulations established by World Health Organization, even though it has recommended not moving possible SARS cases from a hospital for fear of spreading the disease.

"Taiwan does appreciate the US' assistance on SARS control here and the US is satisfied with Taiwan's cooperation on transferring the ill US official back home," Lin said.

"The case highlights the importance of international cooperation in epidemic prevention."

News reports from the US quoted the head of the USCDC defending her decision to repatriate Richards despite the risk of SARS, saying she wanted him near his family and his team was just about to end its tour anyway.

Meanwhile, the Lai Lai Sheraton Hotel, where Richards stayed, began a three-day disinfection period yesterday.

Thirteen of the hotel's cleaners and clerks who had contact with Richards are now under a 10-day home quarantine.

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