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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong: Patients' experiences

Nursing Outlook. 51(5): 212-219. 2003.
Tiwari A.F.Y., Chan S.S.C., Wong A., Tai J., Cheng K., Chan J. and Tsang K.W.T.


This past year there was an outbreak of Severe Acute RespiratorySyndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong. During that time we investigated the clinical features, treatment, and nursing care of 36 patients and reported on 12 of these patients' perceptions of their illness experience.

The purpose of this article is to describe the clinical features, treatment, nursing care and perceptions of the illness experience of patients with SARS in HongKong in order to better inform nurses caring for patients with this highly contagious and potentially lethal disease.

We abstracted data from the medical and nursing records on the clinical features, treatment and nursing care of 36 patients (21 women, 15 men) in whom SARS was diagnosed and who were admitted to the Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong between March 15 and April 15, 2003. A review of the hospital's policy and procedures on infection control was also undertaken. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 of the patients to elicit their perceptions of the illness experience.

The most common symptoms were cough (83%), dyspnea (80.6%), malaise (69.4%) and fever (61%). Less common symptoms included headache (38.9%), diarrhea (38.9%), dizziness (30.6%), myalgia (25%), chills (19.4%), nausea and vomiting (19.4%) and rigor (the occurrence of a sensation of hot-and-cold and shivering in addition to teeth chattering and bed shaking) (8.3%). All 36 patients received a combination of corticosteroids and ribavirin. The patients were at risk of drug-related adverse reactions and deterioration of respiratory function, and nursing vigilance was required.

Nursing patients with SARS was challenging as the disease was highly contagious and potentially lethal, and not much was known about this disease. In addition to the use of frontline treatment, infection control and sensitivity to individual responses to sudden and catastrophic illness were required to support these patients. From this outbreak of SARS, we have learned the importance of infection control in containing and controlling the disease. Other lessons included the need to strengthen the surge capacity in our hospitals and support health care workers during the crisis.

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