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Taiwan Reports Surge in SARS Patients - 2003-05-22

The number of new SARS patients in Taiwan has surged, and the World Health Organization says the new cases, many among health care workers, show that hospitals are not preventing the transmission of the disease.

Taiwan health officials on Thursday said 65 more people were confirmed as having Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the largest overnight jump in cases on the island so far.

Eight patients died from the disease, which causes a serious form of pneumonia.

Peter Cordingley, a World Health Organization spokesman, says poor hospital procedures could be to blame for the continued spread of SARS.

"Something is defiantly going wrong in Taiwan and we think we know what it is," he said. " It's the isolation orders, [they] are not being followed correctly, we're sure. Doctors and nurses are getting sick in unacceptable numbers, which suggests they've got problems in the emergency rooms and the quarantine wards. "

He added that Taiwan's outbreak is likely to worsen before it starts to subside.

Late Wednesday, the WHO extended its travel advisory on Taiwan, to cover the entire island. Previously, the agency had warned against travel only to the capital, Taipei, where the first SARS cases were detected in April.

The government of Taipei has sealed off several hospitals and quarantined thousands of residents early in the outbreak

Those measures however, proved in many instances to be unsuccessful, local news media showed health workers attempting to escape from hospitals that had been sealed off. And much to Taipei's embarrassment, a doctor who had been treating SARS patients came down with the disease while on vacation in Japan.

Some of Taiwan's leaders blame China for the rapid spread of the outbreak after Beijing repeatedly blocked Taipei's attempt to gain observer status at the World Health Organization.

Mr. Cordingley says the U.N. health agency sent epidemiologists to Taiwan after Beijing gave approval.

"Taiwan has a real disadvantage in that it's not a member of the WHO. It would have been better perhaps if we had got a team in earlier but this is the real politics of the situation, we can't do much about this, we have to play with the cards we're dealt," he said.

Taiwan reports 483 cases of SARS, and 60 deaths. It is the third largest outbreak after mainland China and Hong Kong, which together account for about 87 percent of 8,000 infections worldwide.