Health officials said on Wednesday the 44-year-old man caught the virus in a laboratory on 5 December while conducting an experiment on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the disease that ravaged Asia this year causing hundreds of deaths. 

"The victim is a researcher engaged in a government-funded research project on SARS, who was infected with the virus accidentally during the experiment," said Department of Health Minister Chen Chien-jen.

"Only one person has been infected so far," he told a press
conference. 

The patient, a lieutenant-colonel working at the Institute of Preventive Medicine of National Defence Medical Centre, developed fever following a 7-10 December trip to Singapore, where he attended a medical seminar. 

"The victim is a researcher engaged in a government-funded research project on SARS and was infected with the virus accidentally during an experiment"

Chen Chien-jen,
Department of Health Minister 

The Centre for Disease Control Director Su Ih-jen said the man tested positive on Wednesday.

He was being treated at the SARS-designated Hoping Municipal Hospital and was not suffering from respiratory difficulties, doctors said. 

The patient's wife and two children and those who had contact with him would be observed for 21 days until 31 December to watch for signs of fever, an early symptom of the disease, which claimed 37 lives in Taiwan.

Chen, meanwhile, urged the public to step up personal hygiene and other preventive measures but said there was no cause for panic, describing the positive test as an isolated case. 

The case is the first on the island since the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 5 July declared the epidemic had been
contained worldwide after announcing Taiwan - the last region on a blacklist - SARS-free.

WHO's Western Pacific regional office spokesman Peter Cordingley in Manila declined to make an immediate comment. "We are still waiting for more information," he said.

Singapore on alert

Singapore authorities said they had launched an investigation into the case, stressing the city-state was SARS free. 

"We are establishing the facts of the case but there are no suspect (cases) of SARS in Singapore," a health ministry spokeswoman said.

She said authorities were trying to find out who came into contact with the Taiwanese man. Singapore, which suffered 33 fatalities during the worldwide outbreak earlier this year, last reported a SARS case in September. 

The WHO had previously warned Asian nations to take steps against a possible recurrence of the virus, which experts fear could return in cooler winter months across the region. 

The pneumonia-like disease broke out in China's southern Guangdong province in November last year and later spread to and caused mass outbreaks in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam. 

It killed 774 people out of 8,098 cases worldwide, according to
WHO's latest toll.