The hidden impact of SARS

March 01, 2004

Although the effect of SARS had a dramatic effect on the health care system in the greater Toronto area during the spring of 2003, the psychosocial effects on hospital staff has not been given adequate attention. Leslie Nickell and colleagues surveyed staff at the Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre during the first phase of the outbreak. (Sunnybrook and Women's College admitted 71 patients with SARS between March 14 and May 24.) They found that almost two-thirds experienced concern for their health and families and that almost one-third of a subset of employees who completed a 12-item General Health Questionnaire scored above the threshold point -- indicating probable emotional distress.

These findings highlight the need for greater support and educational intervention during such crises.

In a related commentary, Kang Sim and Hong Choon Chua stress the need for further research into the psychosocial impact of infectious disease outbreaks. Front-line health care workers are often in real danger of becoming infected by emerging infectious diseases -- in the case of SARS, 20% of the 8400 people infected worldwide were health care workers.
p. 793 Psychosocial effects of SARS on hospital staff: survey on a large tertiary care institution
-- L.A Nickell et al
p. 811 The psychological impact of SARS: a matter of heart and mind
-- K. Sim, H.C. Chua

Canadian Medical Association Journal

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