Psychological effects of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong on high-risk health care workers

Can J Psychiatry. 2004 Jun;49(6):391-3. doi: 10.1177/070674370404900609.


Objective: To quantify stress and the psychological impact of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) on high-risk health care workers (HCWs).

Method: We evaluated 271 HCWs from SARS units and 342 healthy control subjects, using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to assess stress levels and a structured list of putative psychological effects of SARS to assess its psychological effects. Healthy control subjects were balanced for age, sex, education, parenthood, living circumstances, and lack of health care experience.

Results: Stress levels were raised in both groups (PSS = 18) but were not relatively increased in the HCWs. HCWs reported significantly more positive (94%, n = 256) and more negative psychological effects (89%, n = 241) from SARS than did control subjects. HCWs declared confidence in infection-control measures.

Conclusions: In HCWs, adaptive responses to stress and the positive effects of infection control training may be protective in future outbreaks. Elevated stress in the population may be an important indicator of future psychiatric morbidity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hong Kong / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires