Mental morbidities and chronic fatigue in severe acute respiratory syndrome survivors: long-term follow-up

Arch Intern Med. 2009 Dec 14;169(22):2142-7. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.384.


Background: Short-term follow-up studies of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) survivors suggested that their physical conditions continuously improved in the first year but that their mental health did not. We investigated long-term psychiatric morbidities and chronic fatigue among SARS survivors.

Methods: All SARS survivors from the hospitals of a local region in Hong Kong were assessed by a constellation of psychometric questionnaires and a semistructured clinical interview for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) to determine the presence of psychiatric disorders and chronic fatigue problems.

Results: Of 369 SARS survivors, 233 (63.1%) participated in the study (mean period of time after SARS, 41.3 months). Over 40% of the respondents had active psychiatric illnesses, 40.3% reported a chronic fatigue problem, and 27.1% met the modified 1994 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. Logistic regression analysis suggested that being a health care worker at the time of SARS infection (odds ratio [OR], 3.24; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12- 9.39; P = .03), being unemployed at follow-up (OR, 4.71; 95% CI, 1.50-14.78; P = .008), having a perception of social stigmatization (OR, 3.03; 95% CI, 1.20-7.60; P = .02), and having applied to the SARS survivors' fund (OR, 2.92; 95% CI, 1.18-7.22; P = .02) were associated with an increased risk of psychiatric morbidities at follow-up, whereas application to the SARS survivors' fund (OR, 2.64; 95% CI, 1.07-6.51; P = .04) was associated with increased risk of chronic fatigue problems.

Conclusions: Psychiatric morbidities and chronic fatigue persisted and continued to be clinically significant among the survivors at the 4-year follow-up. Optimization of the treatment of mental health morbidities by a multidisciplinary approach with a view for long-term rehabilitation, especially targeting psychiatric and fatigue problems and functional and occupational rehabilitation, would be needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Fatigue / etiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / complications*
  • Time Factors