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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) facts

  • SARS is the febrile "severe acute respiratory syndrome" that first appeared in 2003 and spread rapidly to more than two dozen countries across the world, infecting over 8,000 people and killing 774 before it could be contained in 2004.
  • SARS is caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV) that exists in bats and palm civets in Southern China.
  • This infection can be spread easily from close person-to-person contact (such as living in the same household) via respiratory droplets that come in contact with skin or mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, or nose).
  • Infected people become ill within a week of exposure. During the first week, nonspecific symptoms of a flu-like illness begin. This period is followed by a syndrome of "atypical" pneumonia, including dry cough, and progressively worsening shortness of breath with poor oxygenation.
  • Since these are nonspecific symptoms and findings, the diagnosis of SARS is only considered if the individual has also had specific risk factors within 10 days prior to illness.
  • If there are grounds for suspicion, respiratory secretions are sent for testing at the CDC.
  • There is no medication that is known to treat SARS. Treatment is supportive.
  • During the 2003 outbreak, approximately 25% of people had severe respiratory failure and 10% died.
  • The SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 was controlled solely by using public-health measures, such as wearing surgical masks, washing hands well, and isolating infected patients.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/22/2016


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