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Travails of SARS patients
( 2003-10-21 09:08) (Agencies)

Some patients who survived SARS in Beijing are suffering bone disorders, possibly due to steroids used in treating the disease, a doctor and the World Health Organization said yesterday.

Doctors have found osteoporosis or necrosis in patients' thighbones and hip joints, said Dr Huang Qun of You'an Hospital, which treated hundreds of SARS patients.

Osteoporosis is a weakening of bone through loss of calcium, while necrosis is bone degeneration.

Huang said he didn't know the number of survivors who have reported bone problems. But he denied a report by the Guangzhou-based newspaper Yangcheng Evening News that as many as half of the 407 medical workers in Beijing who contracted SARS were suffering bone problems.

"Only a few patients have severe symptoms," Huang said. "The reason isn't final. The symptoms might be caused by the SARS virus, or they might be caused by hormones given during treatment."

Chinese doctors treated SARS with steroids to pre-vent possible lung damage, Huan said.

Bone damage is a known side effect of steroid use, and doctors weren't surprised by the impact in Beijing, said Bob Dietz, a WHO spokesman.

"It was a call the doctors made," Dietz said. "It's one of those situations where the treatment is detrimental, but (it is) weighed against a deadlier disease."

Researchers in Hong Kong last Saturday reported similar symptoms in patients.

Health officials have warned that the virus could re-emerge during this winter.

Huang said he expected China's Health Ministry to issue new regulations soon on treating any new SARS patients.

"Everyone is still casting around for a way to treat this," Dietz said.

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