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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

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SARS is a viral respiratory disease that was recently reported in Asia, North America and Europe. This contagious disease leads to the potentially fatal type of pneumonia.

What is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?

SARS is a serious and potentially life-threatening form of pneumonia. It has a zoonotic origin and is caused by the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The condition first made an appearance in the Guangdong province of southern China and spread to different countries with most reported cases in Hong Kong. However, SARS is considered to be a relatively rare disease.


SARS begins with flu-like symptoms about 2 to 10 days after initial infection. The symptoms include:

  • •Fever
  • •Lethargy
  • •Cough
  • •Sore throat
  • •Muscle pain
  • •Diarrhea
  • •Confusion
  • •Rash
  • •Loss of appetite
  • •Chills
  • •Runny nose
  • •Shortness of breath
  • •Pneumonia

How Does One Get Infected With SARS?

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It is thought that a strain of coronavirus that is found in small mammals, mutated and infected humans. Soon, it further mutated and began to spread person to person. The virus quickly spread from China to other Asian countries, especially Hong Kong. It spread to the UK as well as was reported in Toronto, Canada.

SARS is an airborne virus and spreads like the common cold. It infects a healthy person breathing the droplets of saliva that are coughed up or sneezed into the air by an infected person.

The virus also spreads by touching any contaminated surface like door knobs, toys, tables, handles, etc. The virus can spread through the infected person’s stools. Thus, it is very important to wash hands witha soap after using the toilet. Even caring for or living around an infected person can lead to the spread of infection into healthy individuals.


SARS is usually suspected if the person has a fever of about 100°F or a history of coming in contact with a person infected with SARS in the last 10 days. It may also be suspected if the person has travelled to regions identified by the WHO as local transmission areas of SARS. Results of diagnostic tests like a chest X-ray, ELISA, PCR along with positive above findings is considered in diagnosing a case of SARS.


The treatment for SARS is the use of supportive antipyretics, supplemental oxygen and use of mechanical ventilation, if needed. There is no cure or vaccine for SARS. Thus, it is very difficult to treat the infection, especially when the body’s immune system starts acting against itself (cytokine storm).


It has been found, there is a 25% mortality in people with severe respiratory failure during a pandemic. There is 10% fatally in the general population.

SARS outbreak was brought under control in 2003. However, the health officials remain vigilant to any case of SARS. Make sure one wears gloves, masks and goggles during a outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015

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