Fri, Jul 25, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Has the battle against SARS been won?

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health said yesterday a 12-year-old girl was initially excluded from having contracted SARS and described her illness as "a sporadic case."

But as a jittery public was temporarily relieved from the fear that SARS has re-emerged, a question arose: to what extent have all the prevention measures implemented by the government been successful?

Temperature checks continued at CKS International Airport and fever-screening points have been set up outside hospitals.

Travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau are required to check their temperature for 10 days after arriving in Taiwan. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said it has been monitoring whether travelers from those areas followed the regulations.

But the CDC could not follow the travelers on a case-by-case base. It could only ask a limited portion of the travelers whether they actually checked their temperature.

The country's efforts to establish a shield against a re-invasion by SARS might prove to be shaky if the government has been kept in the dark about the SARS situation in China, where the disease originated.

When asked by reporters whether SARS cases may still be present in China, Su Ih-jen (蘇益仁), director-general of the CDC, was unable to give a clear answer.

"I think nobody can answer this question. Nobody knows whether SARS cases still exist in China. I can't even guarantee the SARS virus has been completely eradicated from Taiwan," Su said.

Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), director-general of the Department of Health, said all anti-SARS measures will remain as they are rather than be changed because of the re-appearance of a SARS case.

The concern that China may still not be open about its SARS situation is only one of the problems the department has in the battle against the disease.

The girl has been to two private clinics before being admitted to the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH). Both clinicians failed to perceive the girl might have been infected with SARS.

"It is not that our anti-SARS measures are inefficient. If the two clinicians asked the girl her travel history, the case could have been reported to the CDC much earlier," Su said.

But Chen admitted it might have been difficult for the clinicians to detect the girl was infected with SARS because she did not have standard SARS-like symptoms.

"SARS symptoms may not be very obvious in children. Take the girl, for example. Her fever did not even reach 38?C," Chen said.

Although a fever-screening point has been set up close to the the university hospital, the girl did not go there before being admitted to the hospital.

The result was that a handful of health workers who had had contact with the girl had been isolated.

The DOH and the CDC have been preparing for the arrival of winter, a season during which the bug might return.

"As of Oct. 15, the CDC will collect throat samples from all travelers found to have fever at CKS International Airport. The measure will be imposed on travelers from all countries," Su said.

Su said three suspected SARS cases have been reported to the CDC since July 5, the day the World Health Organization declared Taiwan SARS-free.

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