Taiwan sees record SARS jump


TAIPEI: Taiwan reported a record daily rise in SARS cases yesterday and an American working for the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) here went down with symptoms, forcing the closure of a downtown hotel for disinfection. 

Health officials said there were 65 new infections on the island, which had the world's fastest-growing outbreak of the flu-like virus and was battling to control a worrying surge in its southern region. 

But Taiwan's top health official, addressing a news briefing in Geneva, predicted the outbreak would be contained early next month, thanks to strict new controls in hospitals. 

The Health Department said probable SARS cases in the country surged to 483, while the death toll rose by eight to 60. However, a total of 74 people here had recovered. 

“The US CDC expert has symptoms such as fever and muscle pain. 

“Because the expert had visited SARS-infected hospitals, we decided to treat him as a SARS suspect,” Taiwan's CDC director Su Ih-jen told a news conference. 

A spokesman for the Sheraton Taipei, where the man had been staying, told the news conference the hotel would suspend business for three days beginning yesterday for disinfection. 

SARS, which has no standard treatment, has killed more than 660 people and infected nearly 8,000 worldwide since it appeared in southern China last year. 

Yesterday's rise in new cases here was in sharp contrast to China and Hong Kong, which, while worse-hit, had seen a steady decline in the number of new cases. 

About 90% of Taiwan's cases were linked to outbreaks at hospitals. 

The government had fined four hospitals for delaying the report of SARS patients to authorities. 

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Cambodia reported the country's first suspected case of the disease – a 16-year-old boy who returned from studying in China. 

Health officials said the boy, who had been in the heavily-infected Guangdong region of southern China for three months, fell ill with a fever and respiratory symptoms two days before leaving for home. 

“The case is under investigation,” Jim Tulloch, the WHO's country representative, said. 

The boy returned to Cambodia last Friday and was isolated on Wednesday. His family was also under surveillance. – Reuters  

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