Taiwan virus spreads

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THE DEATH toll from a mystery epidemic which is killing young children in Taiwan is still rising, despite government claims that the worst is over. It now stands at 36, with new fatalities reported every day.

The highly contagious virus may be present in up to half a million people in Taiwan. But so far it has proved fatal only to children under five, who seem to lack the immunity to stop it attacking vital organs.

"The virus has abated and I have repeatedly urged the public not to panic," said Hsu Kwo-hsiung, of Taiwan's communicable disease control centre. But other medical sources say that, instead of retreating, the virus is spreading further into northern Taiwan and on to other Asian countries. The authorities in Singapore have already issued an alert.

Because Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, it is denied membership of the World Health Organisation. "We can't communicate with other countries on this," said David Lee, Taiwan's deputy foreign minister. The US Centers for Disease Control, however, has sent three experts to Taiwan.