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Don’t let down SARS guard, experts advise

Although Taiwan has just been removed by the World Health Organization (WHO) from its list of SARS-affected areas, authorities and experts in Taiwan ask that members of the public don’t let down their guard, as some SARS patients remain in hospital isolation, certain preventive measures will be continued, and experts say the control of the disease in mainland China is the key in predicting whether SARS will return this fall.

According to the China Times, 28 SARS patients remained in hospital as of yesterday. While some of them are well enough to check out by next week, others have had increased fibrous growth in their lungs as an associated complication of SARS, affecting their ability to breathe. Doctors say that depending on the severity of each case, lung transplants may be necessary.

Mayor Ma Ying-jeou of Taipei announced on Saturday that city-wide temperature-taking will continue until the end of this month, reported the United Daily News. Also, all hospital personnel and visitors will be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken until the end of the year at the earliest. In addition, hospital staff will step up training for containment of contagious diseases, to prepare for the possible return of SARS in the fall.

The Min Sheng Daily quoted experts on public health as stating that after experiencing SARS, Taiwan’s health care system should enact a standard procedure for treating infectious diseases. Communications between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait regarding disease control should be improved as well, given Taiwan’s proximity and economic links with the mainland, a researcher at Yang Ming University said.

Chen Yi-min, the head of the university’s school of public health, added that the lack of referral procedures in the National Health Insurance (NHI) system prompted SARS patients to seek care in large hospitals, thus infecting hospital staff and non-SARS patients. Chen suggested that the Department of Health review the NHI system to ensure safer facilities for medical care for all.

Other researchers criticized the government for spending too much time getting Taiwan off the WHO list, and overlooking the faults in its medical care system. They suggested that the government allocate more of its health care budget towards disease control and health awareness education.

The Min Sheng Daily also reported that while the first signs of SARS appeared on the mainland last November, medical experts in Taiwan are unclear about whether SARS will rise again this fall.

At National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei and Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital in Hualien, doctors are somewhat skeptical of mainland China’s SARS-free status, and their opinions differ on how large a recurrence of SARS might be. However, they agreed that the control of the disease’s spread on the mainland is a pivotal factor in determining whether SARS will become a seasonal contagious disease, like the flu.

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