SARS – Part I The New Viral Epidemic?



I can’t remember a point in my lifetime where a virus had entered my little world, but that all changed in March of 2003 with the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in Toronto.

Panic and fear ensued during the months; when as of April, 232 cases were reported in Canada and 10 individuals had died in Ontario due to the virus.

Hospitals and long-term care units were locked down. Staff were unrecognizable wearing masks, gloves, and hairnets. Families visiting loved ones were severely screened. If the family chose to visit, they too would have to wear a mask at all times. Family was restricted to one person visiting at a time, but facilities suggested no visitors until the virus had tapered off worldwide, therefore a full quarantine was immediately put into effect.

Now, try to put yourself in the shoes of an Alzheimer patient. All you noticed were strangers with masks. There was no visual recognition of who these people were, if these were actually people. Straight out of a horror movie trying to decipher the; who, what, where, when and how was almost impossible. Staff were educated on ‘infection control’ procedures daily. Physicians and microbiologists, specifically, Dr. Samson Wong from the University of Hong Kong had warned that SARS could infect 80% of the population in Hong Kong within a two year period*. Panic and paranoia began to encompass not only staff at facilities, but also, the world.

One must not forget that staff at long-term care facilities are people. Although they are trained professionals, residents felt the staff’s fear and anxiety, even though words were not spoken. Touch from staff that were fully gowned, was limited to bathing and toileting. Any resident who had challenges cognitively began to ‘feel’ differently. Overnight their universe had been replaced, as the rest of the world held its breath.


*Toronto Sun article from HONG KONG (AP) April 9, 2003.

© 2014 Paula Bilz. All Rights Reserved.


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