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September 25, 2017

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Taipei designates Heping hospital as H7N9 center

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taipei City has geared up efforts to tackle a potential H7N9 avian flu outbreak, preparing the isolation rooms at a hospital that helped win the hard-fought battle against SARS a decade ago, health officials said yesterday.

The city municipal hospital's Heping Branch has been designated the center for treating H7N9 patients, because of its facilities and experience in tackling the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003, the city's health officials said.

Heping is currently preparing five of its 77 negative pressure isolation rooms, and if any H7N9 case is confirmed in Taiwan, all the others will be opened, the officials said.

The hospital's negative pressure isolation rooms — which are designed to prevent viruses from spreading outside — can accommodate 119 patients, the health officials said.

The city has heightened its alert following more H7N9 deaths reported in China, which has culled all poultry at a Shanghai market where the avian flu strain was found. Sales of live fowl in Shanghai have also been halted.

No H7N9 cases have been reported in Taiwan yet, but epidemic alert levels at all airports and seaports have been raised.

Taipei, which is a major destination for flights from China, has set up a cross-departmental task force to monitor the epidemic.

The officials said any travelers arriving at the city's Songshan Airport with suspected flu symptoms or fever will be sent directly to Heping for further observation.

Patients will first be screened at Heping's emergency unit and if they are found to be carrying flu viruses they will be sent to the negative pressure rooms via an exclusive elevator, the officials said.

Heping, which serves the city's Wanhua area, was locked down with all its patients and medial staff after a SARS epidemic broke out on its premises in 2003. A doctor and nurse contracted the flu and died during the outbreak.

The CNA said the hospital, which now serves about 2,000 outpatients daily, has since converted its seventh to ninth floors into a negative pressure isolation ward, which usually treats tuberculosis patients.

A head nurse, Yu Chin-mei, who was locked inside Heping to treat SARS patients in 2003, now faces the possibility of having to fight another deadly flu again.

Asked if she is afraid of H7N9, she was cited as saying: "Of course I'm afraid. But I'm a professional and therefore I need to understand H7N9 more than others."

Yu said nurses are usually exposed to higher risks than doctors because they spend more time with patients.

The city's health officials said Heping has accumulated much disease-control experience from the SARS outbreak, and its facilities have also been upgraded in recent years.

The city is confident in Heping's capabilities, and other medical facilities of the city will also back up the hospital if the epidemic worsens, officials said.

After inspecting the city's disease-control facilities and equipment, Taipei's health director, Lin Chih-hung said stocks of surgical masks, protective gear, flu medicine and related items must be maintained at sufficient levels, and help from the central government will be sought in case of shortages.

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