Severe acute respiratory syndrome and dentistry: a retrospective view

Lakshman P Samaranayake, Malik Peiris
Journal of the American Dental Association 2004, 135 (9): 1292-302

BACKGROUND: Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which has created panic in Asia and in some parts of North America, is the first epidemic of the new century. Although it has been well-contained, sporadic cases continue to emerge.

OBJECTIVES: The authors trace the emergence of the SARS outbreak from southern China and its spread worldwide, discuss the viral etiology of the infection and its clinical features, and review the infection control guidelines issued during the outbreak by the health authorities in Hong Kong, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Dental Association. They also review the prospects for a new outbreak and preventive measures.

OVERVIEW: The disease, which is caused by a novel coronavirus termed the "SARS coronavirus," or SARS-CoV, essentially spreads through droplet infection and affects people of any age. It has a mortality rate ranging from 10 to 15 percent. A major hallmark of this disease has been the rate at which it has affected health care workers through nosocomial transmission; in some countries, up to one-fourth to one-third of those infected were in this category. However, no dental health care worker has been affected by SARS in a nosocomial or dental setting.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Researchers believe that a combination of factors, including the universal infection control measures that the dental community has implemented and/or the low degree of viral shedding in the prodromal phase of SARS, may have obviated the spread of the disease in dental settings. The dental community should reflect on this outbreak to reinforce the currently applied infection control measures.

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