All but two of the respondents had heard of SARS. Most respondents knew that it is a severe type of pneumonia (91.2%) and caused by a virus (88.7%). The correct estimate of 15% for the death rate for SARS-infected patients was reported by 9%, while 34.1% made estimates close to that number (10%–20%). Equal proportions of the respondents underestimated (44.5%) and overestimated (46.4%) the death rate. A mean knowledge score of 2.9 (standard deviation [SD] = 0.5) was observed; 83.9% of the respondents answered three or more knowledge questions correctly.
While 38.9% were worried about SARS as a health problem, few respondents were worried about getting SARS themselves (4.9%), about family members acquiring it (8.3%), or about SARS in the Netherlands (4.9%). Only 2.6% rated their risk of getting SARS as high or very high; 1.6% thought it likely or very likely that they might die from SARS. The perceived likelihood for getting SARS was lower than for getting a heart attack and cancer but comparable to that for HIV/AIDS (). Thirty-three percent of respondents thought that their risk for SARS was lower than that for other persons of the same sex and age; 7.7% perceived their risk to be higher than that of others.
Perceived capability to avoid SARS was rated as good or very good by 40.5%; 12.3% rated their capability as poor or very poor. All respondents reported taking at least one precautionary action; 41.3% reported one or more specific actions, especially avoiding travel to a SARS-endemic area; the other respondents indicated they had done "something else" to avoid getting SARS (). A mean score of 2.9 (SD = 0.5) was obtained for precautionary actions.
Substantial proportions of respondents reported that they would avoid persons from a SARS-endemic area (50.0%), a person who has a family member with SARS (46.1%), persons possibly from a SARS-endemic area (27.8%), and strangers wearing a protective mask (31.9%). A few respondents (<7%) reported they would avoid healthcare workers or persons who had a cough, looked unwell, had a fever, or sneezed.
SARS diagnostic behavior was rare, with "paying close attention to coughing" (3.5%) reported most often. Only 2.7% had visited a doctor because of SARS-related worries, and 1.1% had called a SARS information telephone service. The mean score for diagnostic action was 0.1 (SD = 0.6).
Pearson correlations indicated that perceived risk of acquiring SARS was positively associated with worries and self-reported precautionary actions to avoid SARS, while negative associations were found with perceived ability to avoid SARS. Precautionary action to avoid SARS was further associated with worries related to the syndrome, and knowledge about SARS was associated with worries about the condition as a health problem ().
Pearson correlations between severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-related risk perceptions, knowledge, and actions
Multiple linear regression analyses with SARS-related risk perceptions and worries as dependent variables and sex, age, and education as independent variables showed a significant association between sex and risk perceptions (standardized regression coefficient [β] = 0.23, p = 0.005) and between years of education and worries (β = –0.18, p = 0.007). Women perceived their risk as higher than men, and less educated persons were more worried about SARS than those with more years of education. No significant associations were found in regression analyses with precautionary actions or SARS-related knowledge as dependent variables.