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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Sars boosts thermometer demand

By David Willey
in Rome

Hong Kong woman in traditional hat wearing mask to protect against SARS
Demand for the special thermometer has rocketed

A small electronics company in Northern Italy has been flooded with orders from China for its patented thermometer, which can diagnose fever from a distance.

Tecnimed's body temperature thermometer, Thermofocus, is being used in Asia for screening people possibly infected with SARS.

Thermofocus measures a person's temperature from a distance of a few centimetres using infrared rays and is the brainchild of a 48-year-old Italian electrical engineer called Francesco Bellifemine.

He took out worldwide patents five years ago and has been producing small quantities of the thermometer for the past three years.

During the past ten days, as a result of the Sars epidemic, the Italian businessman has been flooded with orders from China and also from Taiwan for 70,000 of the white plastic thermometers, originally conceived for family use.

Big plans

Thermofocus was designed to allow mothers to measure their babies temperature without touching any part of the body.

The battery powered digital thermometer turns out to be ideal for cheap hygienic mass screening of possible Sars suspects and is already in use at airports in South Korea and Singapore.

This week the company, which has less than 30 employees, received orders from the Chinese government and also from health authorities in Taiwan for nearly $7m (4.4m) worth of thermometers.

The company plans to take on extra staff and install new equipment to meet the sudden surge in demand.

With effect from today Italian health authorities are also beginning to screen passengers at major airports in Italy and Mr Bellifemine hopes that the Italian Health Ministry will join his rapidly growing list of customers.

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