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Severe acute respiratory syndrome: ‘SARS’ or ‘not SARS’

Authors


Dr Albert Martin Li, Department of Paediatrics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 6/F Clinical Sciences Building, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, Hong Kong. Fax: (852) 2636 0020; email: albertmli@cuhk.edu.hk

Abstract

Abstract:  Accurate clinical diagnosis of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) based on the current World Health Organization definition is difficult and at times impossible at the early stage of the disease. Both false positive and false negative cases are commonly encountered and this could have far-reaching detrimental effects on the patients, their family and the clinicians alike. Contact history is particularly important in diagnosing SARS in children as their presenting features are often non-specific. The difficulty in making a correct diagnosis is further compounded by the lack of a sensitive rapid diagnostic test. Serology is not particularly helpful in the initial triaging of patients as it takes at least 3 weeks to become positive. Co-infection and other treatable conditions should not be missed and conventional antibiotics should remain as part of the first-line treatment regimen. We report five cases to illustrate the difficulties and dilemmas faced by clinicians in diagnosing SARS in children.

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