Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome


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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, is a viral infection that can cause severe respiratory distress. It was first reported in February 2003, in China.

This is a potentially serious condition that requires care from your doctor. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor immediately.

The Respiratory System


© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


SARS is caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus. The specific type of coronavirus is called SARS-associated coronavirus or SARS-Cov. The virus is spread from droplets that spray into the air when a sick individual sneezes or coughs. The virus can also be picked up from objects that an ill person has touched.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chance of developing SARS. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:

  • 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


If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to SARS. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pneumonia


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood tests can reveal the presence of immune cells made by your body to fight the SARS virus.
  • Tests on samples of blood, sputum, stool, or other tissue can reveal the presence of the virus that causes SARS.


Because SARS is caused by a virus, there are currently no medications available to cure it. Researchers are still studying whether antiviral agents, corticosteroids, and immune-modulating drugs may be helpful in shortening the course of and the severity of SARS. The symptoms of SARS may be treated with:

Oxygen Therapy

If you are having difficulty breathing, you may be given oxygen through a tube or mask. More severe respiratory distress may require mechanical ventilation.


To help reduce your chance of getting SARS, take the following steps:

  • Practice good handwashing.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers regularly.
  • 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, gown, and use eye protection when caring for patients with SARS.


American Lung Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization


Information About SARS
Community and Hospital Infection Control Association

Health Canada


Goldman L, et al. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed.Philadelphia: WB Saunders Company; 2004.

MandellG, et al. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone, Inc.; 2005.

Mason RJ, et al. Murray & Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. London: Elsevier; 2005.

Last reviewed January 2008 by David Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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