A new case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Taiwan has health officials across Asia on alert. The case is again raising concerns about infection control in medical laboratories in Asia.
In a repeat of scenes earlier this year, the Singapore government announced that it has quarantined 70 people. They all came in contact with a man from Taiwan who was diagnosed with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome after returning home from a visit to Singapore.
Taiwan's Health Minister Chen Chien-jen spoke about the latest SARS case.
Mr. Chen says that it is confirmed the man has the pneumonia-like disease.
The patient is a researcher at a military-run medical laboratory and may have contracted SARS while studying the virus. All Taiwan laboratories researching SARS have been closed.
This is the island's first case since July, and the first diagnosed in the world in three months. But Mr. Chen says so far the case appears isolated.
Within hours of the announcement, Hong Kong activated its SARS alert system. Health workers have been deployed to monitor arriving visitors from Taiwan.
Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Toronto, Canada were heavily hit by SARS earlier this year.
SARS patients develop severe pneumonia. Early symptoms include high fever and difficulty breathing. The disease infected 8,000 people worldwide this year and killed more than 700 before the outbreak was declared over in July. The Taiwan case is the second infection contracted in a laboratory since a Singapore researcher caught the virus in August.
On Wednesday, World Health Organization officials have raised concerns about safety procedures in Asian laboratories. Hong Kong's director of health, PY Lam, says the territory's laboratories comply with WHO infection control guidelines.
"The chances of laboratory workers contracting SARS, during work, are present, but I would say, low," he said. "All these precautionary measures are there to minimize the chances of this happening and if in case it happens, the chances of going out of laboratory will be kept to a minimum."
SARS first emerged in southern China in November last year. Experts have warned a fresh outbreak is possible with the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere. Several countries are developing vaccines for SARS, but experts say it will take years before one is widely available.