Also called: SARS Disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS Virus

Reviewed By:
Vikram Tarugu, M.D., AGA, ACG


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a highly contagious respiratory disease which results in symptoms similar to those of influenza (flu). It is caused by a virus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first identified in 2002, when the World Health Organization (WHO) received reports from China of a new type of flu. Within months of the disease being reported, SARS had spread to four continents, infected over 8000 people and caused almost 800 deaths. The disease has been contained, although not completely eradicated, and the WHO regularly monitors high-risk areas for signs of new outbreaks.

The people most at risk for contracting SARS are those who travel to areas experiencing an outbreak of the disease. Healthcare workers and those who handle samples of SARS-CoV are also at risk, although taking preventative measures such as practicing stringent personal hygiene and wearing a mask have been shown to be effective. Older people or those with weak immune systems are more likely to experience complications and die from SARS than younger people.

If a physician suspects that someone may be infected with SARS, a number of tests may be conducted, most of which require blood or body-fluid samples. Treatment options are supportive and most people recover within two weeks with diligent home care, bed rest and plenty of fluids. People caring for infected people should take precautions against becoming infected themselves, including washing their hands regularly, wearing protective masks and gloves and disinfecting all surfaces that have come into contact with the infected person.

It is very important that people who develop flu-like symptoms and think they may have been in contact with someone with SARS notify their physician immediately. SARS is a highly contagious disease and can be fatal in some people. In some cases, isolation and quarantine may be required to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

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