SARS patient recovering, health officials say

Friday, December 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ A Taiwanese man who became infected with SARS at a laboratory is recovering, and five foreigners who sat near him on a flight have been located and told to monitor their health, health officials said Friday.

The 44-year-old scientist was recovering in a Taipei hospital and developing an appetite again, doctors said.

Five foreigners _ three Americans, one Japanese and a Singaporean _ who sat near the infected man during a flight from Singapore to Taiwan had been found.

The Japanese traveler was located in Taiwan where he lives, two of the Americans went to Hong Kong and the other is in the United States, said Shih Wen-yi, a spokesman for Taiwan's Center for Disease Control. They were told to be on alert for SARS symptoms, like a fever, Shih said.

Singapore's Ministry of Health said it has found the Singaporean traveler and that he was in good health.

So far, 109 people have been quarantined in Taiwan and Singapore, where the man, a U.S.-educated military scientist, attended a congress.

No SARS case has been reported in any known contacts of the scientist, World Health Organization spokeswoman Maria Cheng said.

``It doesn't look like the start of a new outbreak,'' Cheng said Thursday. ``We're very much hoping that it's an isolated event.''

The scientist might have been exposed to the virus on Dec. 5 while disinfecting equipment in his military laboratory in suburban Taipei, officials have said. Two days later, he flew to Singapore with five colleagues.

After he and his co-workers returned to Taiwan on Dec. 10, two of his colleagues in the Ministry of Defense flew to the United States, said Shih, who would not specify where the two stayed.

The two colleagues returned to Taiwan on Friday and were being examined at a Taipei hospital, Shih said.

During the outbreak earlier this year, Taiwan was ranked No. 3 in the world behind China and Hong Kong for infections and deaths.

Officials have said the researcher was probably not contagious while traveling because he had no symptoms. He developed a fever only after he got home.

Even so, Taiwan has put 34 people in home quarantine and Singapore has isolated 75 because they had close contact with the man.

In a television interview broadcast Friday, the researcher's father said his son knew he was infected but delayed going to the hospital because he didn't want to bring shame to Taiwan.

``He was thinking of the country,'' the father, identified only by his surname, Chan, told CTI cable news.

The new case sounds a lot like the one believed to have played a role in triggering the global outbreak that started about a year ago, infecting 8,098 people and killing 774.

One of the suspected ``super spreaders'' in that outbreak was believed to be a 64-year-old doctor from China who attended a wedding last February in Hong Kong _ a crowded, regional travel hub like Singapore.

In China, health officials said all 19 hospitals in Beijing known to have samples of the SARS virus have turned them over for storage under a government order to handle them more securely.