SARS: What you should know

SARS: What you should know

Acute severe respiratory syndrome, or SARS, was a contagious respiratory disease and potentially fatal. Outbreaks occurred 2002-2003, but the disease is no longer in circulation.

SARS was a coronavirus infection called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) by scientists. SARS-CoV is linked to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes an infection with COVID-19.

While COVID-19 currently affects people all over the world, since 2004 no reports of new SARS cases have surfaced.

In November 2002 the respiratory disease known as SARS first appeared in China and it was identified by scientists in February 2003.

SARS spread to over 24 countries before it was managed to be contained by health authorities. Nevertheless there were 8,098 cases worldwide and 774 deaths between November 2002 and July 2003.

There have been eight laboratory-confirmed cases in the United States, and no fatalities. All eight people affected by the illness had traveled to places where SARS was prevalent.

Global collaboration has allowed health authorities to deal with the SARS threat quickly and to control the disease rapidly. Infections with SARS do not occur now, although they might one day reappear.

What is SARS?

From 2002 to 2003, an outbreak of SARS spread across 24 countries.
From 2002 to 2003, an outbreak of SARS spread across 24 countries.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV causes SARS.. A coronavirus is a common type of virus that typically contributes to diseases of the upper respiratory tract like common cold.

Seven different types of coronavirus can possibly infect people. Four are every, and most people will encounter at least one of them in their lives.

The three other coronaviruses cause:

  • SARS
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
  • COVID-19

Since 2002, the three most recent coronaviruses have all emerged and are more likely to pose life threats than the previous ones.


Scientists say coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV, spread from coughing and sneezing through near human contact and in droplets. The viruses may be airborne or moving in ways that scientists still do not learn.

The body will likely absorb the respiratory droplets through the mouth , nose, and eye mucous membranes.

Ways to transmit the virus could include:

  • hugging and kissing
  • sharing utensils for eating and drinking
  • speaking to others within a distance of 3 feet
  • touching someone directly

When one person droplets land on an object like a door handle or a telephone, someone else will be able to pick up the virus if they contact certain objects.

In 2015, scientists found evidence that SARS-CoV may survive for extended periods on a dry surface, possibly for several months.

SARS was a zoonotic disease , which means it was of animal origin but transmitted to humans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) notes that 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases, including rabies and Ebola, come from animals. Most zoonotic diseases come from wild animals, rather than from pets or domestic animals.

Some animals can carry a virus without getting sick, as their bodies are used to the virus. This fact means they will probably be immune.

But viruses can change. When a virus changes through interaction with another animal form it can become unpredictable and potentially harmful.

Once a new virus first appears there is no immunity for humans. The immune system develops antibodies to the new virus over time, and these antibodies are equipping it to fight the resulting illness.

For example, when swine flu (H1N1) first showed up in 2009, there were concerns that a pandemic might develop. Now, one of the seasonal flu strains included by pharmacists in the annual flu vaccine is. Most citizens also have H1N1 immunity.

A new coronavirus, known by scientists as SARS-CoV-2, began sicknessing people in China in 2019. It is the virus which is behind the new pandemic COVID-19.


When SARS occurred, its symptoms appeared 2–7 days after an individual was exposed to the virus, but they could take up to 10 days as well.

The first symptom was high fever that exceeded 100.4 ° F (38.0 ° C). Other mild respiratory symptoms are similar to flu symptoms.

Other early symptoms included:

  • aches
  • chills
  • diarrhea in 10–20% of people

These symptoms developed over the course of 7 days.

After 7–10 days, the person might then have noticed:

  • a dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • low oxygen levels in the body known as hypoxia

Most people with SARS developed pneumonia while some have suffered long-term liver , kidney, and lung damage.

Such problems were more likely to occur in those over the age of 60 and most people with SARS had a complete recovery.


A doctor will ask the patient about symptoms to diagnose SARS, and conduct a physical exam. They would probably inquire whether the person had spent any time recently in an environment where SARS was present or took care of a person with SARS.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a person must have all the following for a diagnosis of SARS:

  • fever of at least 100.4°F (38°C)
  • one or more symptoms of lower respiratory tract illness, such as cough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • radiographic evidence to suggest pneumonia
  • no alternative diagnosis to explain the illness

SARS was rare when it happened, and the symptoms were inconsistent with those of the flu and pneumonia.

It would only be possible for a person to have SARS if a current outbreak had occurred, and they had been to an area where the disease was taking place. Since 2004 there have been no reports of SARS at the time of writing.


Laboratory tests can help identify SARS-CoV.

These include:

  • blood tests
  • stool tests
  • tests of nasal secretions
  • imaging tests to detect pneumonia

These tests might not be reliable during the early stages of infection.


SARS is a reportable disease, and an emergency medical.

Those with SARS in the U.S. didn’t need to undergo quarantine during the 2003 outbreak. WHO recommended isolating patients and using barrier techniques to prevent the virus from spreading, including masks and goggles with filters.

No drugs appeared to be successful against SARS like antibiotics. Health care providers also provided preventive services, including the use of medications to alleviate symptoms such as fever and cough. Many patients in hospital used a ventilator to help them breathe.


As with other infectious diseases, if it were to occur again some simple steps would help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV.

These include:

  • washing hands frequently or cleaning with an alcohol-based detergent
  • avoiding touching the eyes, mouth, and nose with unclean hands
  • covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • avoiding sharing food, drinks, and utensils
  • staying at least 3 feet away from other people
  • regularly cleaning surfaces with

Likewise, anyone with SARS symptoms would limit interaction with others until 10 days after their symptoms have improved.

According to the CDC, SARS appeared to be contagious only after symptoms developed, and it most likely spread during the second week of disease.


In 2002–2003 an outbreak of SARS occurred. It originated from SARS-CoV, a virus-related coronavirus which is responsible for the current pandemic COVID-19.

Health officials responded rapidly when the outbreak happened, and were able to avoid widespread disease. There have been no confirmed cases of SARS in any part of the world since 2004.

There is actually no cure for SARS, and no SARS-CoV vaccine, but researchers have continued to investigate.