Taiwan's (searchfirst SARS (search) patient in five months left the hospital early Tuesday, nearly two weeks after he tested positive for the often-deadly virus.

The 44-year-old military scientist, who apparently caught SARS while studying the virus, was discharged after tests showed he was free of the highly contagious virus, said Hong Wei-ho, spokesman for Hoping Hospital in Taipei (search).

The researcher, identified only by his rank and surname, Lt. Col. Chan, left shortly after midnight apparently to avoid the horde of reporters who had waited outside the hospital during the day.

Chan was Taiwan's first SARS patient since the island was taken off the World Health Organization's list of SARS-infected areas last July.

During the global SARS outbreak earlier this year, more than 8,000 people were infected and 774 died. Taiwan ranked No. 3 in the world behind China and Hong Kong for cases and deaths.

A preliminary investigation concluded that Chan was apparently exposed to the virus Dec. 6 while mishandling contaminated trash in his military laboratory, designed to contain some of the world's deadliest viruses.

Chan developed SARS symptoms on Dec. 10 -- the same day he returned from a three-day trip to Singapore. But he waited nearly a week before going to a hospital. Tests confirmed that he had the virus on Dec. 17.

Since Chan became sick, no one else in Taiwan or Singapore has tested positive for SARS, officials have said.

Last weekend, China announced a suspected case, but the Chinese government has said tests have been inconclusive so far.