The psychological impact of the SARS epidemic on hospital employees in China: exposure, risk perception, and altruistic acceptance of risk

Can J Psychiatry. 2009 May;54(5):302-11. doi: 10.1177/070674370905400504.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Hospital Administrators / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional / prevention & control
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mass Media
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Quarantine / psychology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / psychology*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / transmission
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology