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December 7, 2009

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Former SARS victims face long-term side effects

SIX years after the deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, survivors continue to count the costs with medical and psychological problems rife.

More than 60 percent of the survivors on Chinese mainland have broken up with their spouses due to side effects caused by the treatment used to fight SARS - large doses of hormones, according to a TV report.

Many of them are now physically challenged because of lung fibrosis or massive hip damage, a side effect due to the overuse of hormones.

The long-term use of hormones was widely adopted for SARS patients but had long-term negative effects, especially bone necrosis, according to China Central Television.

Their recovery from the virus outbreak, which caused more than 340 deaths and 5,300 cases on the mainland, was an end to one medical crisis and the beginning of another.

Beijing, one of the most seriously affected cities during the epidemic, now has at least 50 survivors suffering bone necrosis, which is not life threatening in the short term but causes gradual debilitation.

They may need to have artificial bone joints installed, face years in a wheelchair and lose living skills.

A study on domestic SARS survivors revealed that 74 percent of respondents suffered from severe depression, while 39 percent had suffered side effects of varying degrees from the hormone treatment.

Beijing's health department set up a task force in March 2004, offering medical treatment to those with side effects. Medical staff who were hit by the virus were among the first batch of patients to have medical expenses covered.

From July the following year, the Beijing government covered the medical expenses for all former patients suffering side effects from the hormone treatment.

The Red Cross Society of China supports the victims annually with subsidies of between 4,000 yuan (US$585.90) and 8,000 yuan each.

In addition, each district in Beijing has designated hospitals to treat SARS side-effect victims.

A CCTV documentary was made on the SARS survivors and called for more government support for them.


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