Objective To describe an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in a tertiary hospital in Singapore, linked to an index patient with atypical presentation, and the lessons learnt from it.
Design Descriptive study.
Setting A tertiary hospital in Singapore.
Participants Patients, healthcare workers, and visitors who contracted SARS in Singapore General Hospital.
Main outcome measures Probable SARS as defined by the World Health Organization.
Results The index patient presented with gastrointestinal bleeding, initially without changes to his chest radiograph. Altogether 24 healthcare workers, 15 patients, and 12 family members and visitors were infected. The incubation period ranged from three to eight days. Only 13 patients were isolated on their dates of onset.
Conclusions Atypical presentation of SARS infection must be taken into consideration when managing patients with a history of contact with SARS patients. The main gap in the containment strategy in this outbreak was the failure to identify the index patient as someone who had been discharged from a ward in another hospital that managed probable SARS cases. Strict infection control measures, a good surveillance system, early introduction of isolation procedures, and vigilant healthcare professionals are essential for controlling outbreaks.