The behavioral impacts of SARS and its implication for societal preparedness for other emerging infections

Sing Lee, Shui-shan Lee, Corina Shuk-ching Fung, Kathleen Pik-san Kwok


This study examined public attitudes toward Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong three months after the peak of the 2003 outbreak in order to shed light on SARS-related complaints received by the Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong.

A cross-sectional telephone survey was conducted three months after the SARS outbreak of 1,023 randomly selected Chinese-speaking residents in Hong Kong.

Most of the respondents (72.2%) reported worry about contracting SARS. They attributed their anxiety to the perceived danger of the disease, the government’s unsatisfactory style of crisis management, and inconsistent health information dissemination. The majority of respondents endorsed up to 3 avoidant (67.8%) and 3 imposing (72.7%) attitudes toward individuals and/or situations considered to be at risk of spreading SARS. Logistic Regression analyses indicated that the odds for avoidant and imposing attitudes increased significantly for those who were middle aged (35-54), employed full-time or part-time, and worried over contracting SARS.

Public attitudes that endorsed avoidant and imposing behaviors were common during the outbreak of SARS. While essential for preventive health practices, they might bring about workplace conflicts, stigma, and other negative interpersonal experiences. These problems may complicate public health efforts to control the epidemic. They may also suggest ways in which societal preparedness for future emerging infections can be improved.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), anxiety, stigma, Hong Kong, discrimination

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