SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The virus is transmitted by contact with fluids produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. Because it spreads fairly easily, possibly even through the air, SARS was difficult to stop during the 2003 global outbreak. It spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was contained. Since 2004, no cases have been reported worldwide.
SARS usually begins with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4°F), followed by a headache, an overall feeling of discomfort, and body aches. Some people also have mild respiratory symptoms at the outset. About 10 to 20 percent of patients have diarrhea. After 2 to 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough. Most patients develop pneumonia.
Persons suspected of having SARS should be evaluated immediately by a health care provider and hospitalized under isolation if they meet the definition of a suspected or probable case. Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial causes of atypical pneumonia, and antivirals may also be given. Oxygen, breathing support, or chest physiotherapy can help prevent respiratory failure, and high doses of steroids can reduce lung inflammation.
Reducing contact with someone with SARS lowers the risk for the disease. Limiting travel to locations where there is an uncontrolled outbreak is an obvious precaution. When possible, avoid direct contact with persons who have SARS for at least 10 days after their fever and other symptoms are gone. Hand hygiene, washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer, is the best way to prevent SARS. Other strategies include covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing; avoiding sharing of food, drink, or utensils; and disinfecting surfaces with EPA-approved disinfectant. If necessary, masks, goggles, and gloves may be used to prevent the spread of the disease.