Objective: We examined the psychological impact of the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) on hospital employees in Beijing, China.
Methods: In 2006, randomly selected employees (n = 549) of a hospital in Beijing were surveyed concerning their exposure to the 2003 SARS outbreak, and the ways in which the outbreak had affected their mental health.
Results: About 10% of the respondents had experienced high levels of posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms since the SARS outbreak. Respondents who had been quarantined, or worked in high-risk locations such as SARS wards, or had friends or close relatives who contracted SARS, were 2 to 3 times more likely to have high PTS symptom levels, than those without these exposures. Respondents' perceptions of SARS-related risks were significantly positively associated with PTS symptom levels and partially mediated the effects of exposure. Altruistic acceptance of work-related risks was negatively related to PTS levels.
Conclusions: The psychological impact of stressful events related to an infectious disease outbreak may be mediated by peoples' perceptions of those events; altruism may help to protect some health care workers against these negative impacts.