Sat, May 17, 2008 - Page 2 News List

DOH hunts escaped TB patient

INFECTION Health authorities released a description of Lee Chen-chu, who suffers from multidrug-resistant TB, and urged the public to call a hotline if they saw him

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

The Department of Health published yesterday the name and features of a patient infected with a dangerous form of tuberculosis who fled a hospital in Taichung.

The 56-year-old patient, Lee Chen-chu (李真主), is 161cm tall, weighs 67kg, is balding and has red patches on the cheeks, said Chou Chih-hao (周志浩), deputy director-general of the department’s Centers for Disease Control.

Chou urged anyone who has seen Lee to call the center by dialing the 1922 hotline or to alert local health authorities.

He also expressed hope that “Lee would take the initiative and return to the hospital to continue treatment.”

Lee, who suffers from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), escaped from Taichung Hospital through a fire door on Wednesday night after tampering with the alarm system, Chou said.

Lee has been at the hospital for treatment since last July.

The department was forced to reveal his identity because he could become infectious following suspension of his treatment, Chou said, adding that Lee did not take his medication with him.

The government has publicized his identity in accordance with the information protection law.

The move was not meant to identify Lee as a fugitive from justice but rather as an appeal to the police and the public for help to find him, Chou said.

Police said that Lee was last seen taking a train from Kaohsiung to Pingtung on Thursday afternoon.

Taitung County Health Department Director Lu Chiao-yang (呂喬洋) said that being infected with TB was nothing to be alarmed about, but delaying or suspending treatment could be dangerous.

Lu also asked those passengers who may have traveled in the same carriage as Lee not to panic, saying that individuals could only be infected if they stayed in an enclosed space for more than eight hours with him.

Lu said that the department believed Lee could eventually show up at his residence in Chiayi City or at a relative’s home in Yunlin County.

Taichung Hospital deputy superintendent Lee Ming-hui (李明輝) said that the patient had been in the hospital for nearly 10 months.

He assured the public that Lee Chen-chu “posed no immediate risk to others,” but since he left without his medication, the hospital hoped that he could return early.

“The hospital has made the best preparations for his return,” he said.

Lee Chen-chu first made headlines when he and his wife, who also suffered from TB at the time, traveled to China via Hong Kong last July in defiance of a travel ban.

He and his wife were sent to Taichung Hospital for compulsory treatment after being repatriated in late July .

His wife has since been cured and discharged.

Starting on July 1 last year, the department forbade MDR-TB patients from taking any international flights and those with infectious TB from taking international flights of eight hours or longer. Violators are subject to fines of up to NT$150,000 (US$4,860).

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