Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
What is SARS?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness that first infected people in parts of Asia, North America, and Europe in late 2002 and early 2003. SARS is caused by a type of coronavirus, which can cause mild to moderate
Experts believe SARS may have first developed in animals because the virus has been found in civets—a catlike wild animal that is eaten as a delicacy in China—and other animals.
How is SARS spread?
Like most respiratory illnesses, SARS is spread mainly through contact with infected saliva or droplets from coughing. You cannot get SARS from brief, casual exposure to an infected person, such as passing someone on the street. In general, you need to have close contact to become infected. Close contact includes living with or caring for a person who has SARS or breathing in air that an infected person exhaled. But under some conditions, SARS has spread within an apartment building and to health care workers. Outbreaks of SARS do not appear to be seasonal.
An infection may develop after:
It is possible SARS can be transmitted in other ways, such as by touching objects that are contaminated with feces from an infected person. This could happen if people do not wash their hands after using the bathroom.
The disease does not appear to spread from a mother to her baby at birth.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms are a fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. A person with SARS also may experience a headache, muscle aches, a sore throat, fatigue, and diarrhea. Older people may feel generally unwell (malaise) and lose their appetite but not have a fever.
The incubation period—the time from when a person is first exposed to SARS until symptoms appear—is usually 3 to 7 days but may be as long as 10 days. Experts believe a person can spread the illness to others only while he or she has symptoms. As a precaution, though, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people who have SARS stay home, except for doctor visits, until 10 days after their symptoms have gone away.
How is SARS diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect SARS if you have a fever and you either have traveled to a SARS-affected area or have in the past 10 days been around a person who has SARS.
Your doctor may order several tests to find out the cause of your symptoms. A chest
You will need at least two tests for antibodies done on separate days to confirm an infection. You also may have tests to detect the genetic material (RNA) of the SARS virus. RNA testing is not available everywhere.
How is it treated?
Severe cases of SARS often require a hospital stay, especially if breathing problems develop. You will be placed in isolation to prevent passing the disease to others. Various medicines—including
About one-third (33 out of 100) of the people with SARS become ill and then recover.
The risk of dying from SARS depends on a person's age and health. The greatest risk is to people older than 65 and those with chronic illnesses, such as
How can I avoid being infected with SARS?
The best way to prevent the spread of SARS is to avoid areas where there is an outbreak and avoid contact with people who may be infected. You can also reduce your risk of infection by washing your hands often with soap or alcohol hand cleaners. If an outbreak occurs, try to avoid large public gatherings. The CDC does not recommend wearing face masks in public to prevent infection, although this is a common practice in Asian countries such as Japan.
Researchers are currently trying to develop vaccines to prevent SARS infection. But no vaccines are being tested in humans yet.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.