Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory infection that was first identified in a 2003 outbreak.
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SARS is caused by a specific group of viruses. The viruses are spread from droplets in the air. The droplets come from spray when a sick person sneezes or coughs. Viruses can also be picked up from objects that an ill person has touched.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing SARS include:
- Gene variation in the immune system—This gene variation may be more common in people in Southeast Asia. The variation makes people more susceptible to developing SARS.
- Recent travel to locations in Asia where SARS outbreaks have been reported.
- Close contact with someone who has SARS.
- Healthcare workers who care for patients with SARS.
SARS requires care from your doctor. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor right away.
SARS may cause:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches and pains
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Malaise (a general feeling of discomfort)
- Muscular stiffness
- Loss of appetite
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your body fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Blood culture
- Sputum culture
- Stool tests
The oxygen level in your blood may be measured. This can be done with pulse oximetry.
Images may be taken of your body structures. This can be done with a chest x-ray.
There are currently no medications to treat or cure SARS. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics and current antiviral drugs have not had any effect.
Researchers are looking for ways to shorten the course and severity of the infection with:
- Medications that suppress or enhance the immune system
The symptoms of SARS will be treated with oxygen therapy if it is needed. If you are having difficulty breathing, you may be given oxygen through a tube or mask. More severe problems may require a machine to help you breathe.
To help reduce your chance of getting SARS, take these steps:
- Practice proper hand washing.
- Regularly use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Disinfect toilets, sinks, or other objects or surfaces used by anyone with SARS.
- Do not share utensils, glasses, towels, or linen with anyone with SARS.
- If you are a healthcare worker, use gloves, a gown, and eye protection when caring for patients with SARS.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
Lu P, Zhou B, et al. Chest x-ray imaging of patients with SARS. Chin Med J. 2003;116(7):972-975.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/severe-acute-respiratory-syndrome. Accessed December 22, 2014.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/sars. Updated April 16, 2013. Accessed December 22, 2014.
Last reviewed November 2018 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014