SARS May Have Left Mental Scars

Canadian patients showed declines in emotional health one year later, study found

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MONDAY, June 25, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- While most Canadian patients who survived the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto had good physical recovery, many reported a decline in their mental health the following year, a new study finds.

Researchers evaluated 117 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) survivors three, six and 12 months after they were discharged from hospital. Each evaluation included a physical examination, a six-minute walk test, a lung function test, a chest X-ray and quality-of-life measures. They were also asked how often they saw a doctor.

At one year, all but one patient had normal/pre-SARS chest X-ray results. At three months, 31 percent of the patients had a reduced six-minute walk distance. That decreased to 18 percent of patients by 12 months. Most patients had normal lung function by three months.

However, one year after discharge from hospital, the patients' general health, vitality and social functioning remained below the normal range, according to the study, which is published in the June 25 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. The patients also made frequent use of health care services in the year after being discharged from hospital, the researchers found.

Many patients returned to work part-time and gradually increased their workload, while 23 patients returned to work full-time with no need for a modified schedule. One year after being discharged from hospital, 17 percent of patients had not returned to work and nine percent had not returned to their pre-SARS level of work.

"We have shown that most SARS survivors have pulmonary and functional recovery from their acute illness. However, one year after discharge from hospital, health-related quality of life remained lower than in the general population, and patients reported important decrements in mental health. These findings are reflected in the notable utilization of psychiatric and psychological services in the one-year follow-up period," the study authors wrote.

Family and friends who acted as caregivers for the patients also experienced declines in mental health, the researchers found.

"These data may help to highlight the needs of patients and caregivers during and after an epidemic, the potential benefit of a family-centered approach to follow-up care, and the importance of exploring strategies to minimize the psychological burden of an epidemic illness as part of future pandemic planning initiatives," the authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about SARS.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, June 25, 2007

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