Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

What is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, also known as SARS, is a very contagious disease and is sometimes fatal.  It is a respiratory illness that first appeared in 2002 in China and then spread worldwide within a few months.  There have not been any cases of SARS since 2004.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome was originally started by the same type of virus that spreads the common cold, coronavirus.  The virus spreads through the air when someone sneezes or coughs or even talks.  Experts believe that face-to-face contact is the main way that SARS spread but contaminated objects may also be a cause for spreading the disease.

As people travelled from country to country, it is easy to see how it became a worldwide epidemic.

What are the Symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?

SARS usually appears with symptoms that are basically similar to a common flu.  Muscle aches, fever, chills are all typical symptoms.  Diarrhea may also be a sign of SARS. After a week it progress to include shortness of breath, a fever of 100.5 °F/38 °C or higher, and a dry cough.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Causes

Droplets from sneezing, close human contact, and coughing are likely to transmit SARS virus. The respiratory droplets are absorbed into the body via the nose, the membrane of the mouth or the eyes, meaning the virus can enter into the body through kissing, hugging, sharing the same utensils while drinking and eating, speaking to someone very closely – e.g. from a distance of three feet or less – and touching someone suffering from SARS directly. SARS is highly contagious and is an airborne disease.

An individual suffering from SARS can spread the infection very quickly by leaving virus droplets on handles, doors, telephones, and doorbells. SARS is called a zoonotic disease because it is an infection that was transmitted from animals to humans. Many scientists argue that SARS virus can live in a wet environment for six hours and three hours when the environment is dry. The reinfection of SARS is very common because its immunity is powerful. Its virus is known as coronaviruses. The symptoms occur from 2 to 10 days after coming in contact with SARS virus. The variation in days depends on the immune system of the body.

How is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Treated?

Despite the wide spread epidemic of SARS in the early 2000s, no effective treatment was found.  Antiviral drugs have not had a major effect and antibiotics do not work at all against viruses.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacteria that might lead to pneumonia and steroids are used to reduced the swelling in the lungs.

Mechanical support such as ventilators might be necessary to assist the breathing function.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Prevention

Patients suffering from SARS should be isolated from uninfected people to prevent the virus spreading. Barrier techniques are also used to prevent transmission, with other methods including goggles and filter masks. Antibiotics also work well in fighting the SARS virus. Adequate hygiene can help in restricting the spread of the virus, avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose with unclean hands and also cover your mouth while sneezing or coughing using a tissue or a clean cloth. SARS is very contagious when the symptoms have developed, especially during the second week. It is important to isolate and limit patients from interacting with other people.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
November 07, 2017
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