This document examines a study on the transmission patterns of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) among medical students exposed exclusively to the first SARS patient in the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, before his illness was recognized. The outbreak study group conducted a retrospective cohort study of 66 medical students who visited the index patient's ward, including 16 students with SARS and 50 healthy students. The risk of contracting SARS was sevenfold greater among students who definitely visited the index case's cubicle than in those who did not (10/27 [41%] versus 1/20 [5%], relative risk 7.4; 95% confidence interval 1.0 to 53.3). Illness rates increased directly with proximity of exposure to the index case. However, four of eight students who were in the same cubicle, but were not within 1 m of the index case patient, contracted SARS. Proximity to the index case patient was associated with transmission, which is consistent with droplet spread. Transmission through fomites or small aerosols cannot be ruled out.
Emerging Infectious Diseases (February 2004), v.10, no.2, p. 256-260