Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus (not a bacteria). Normally, coronaviruses cause mild to moderate upper respiratory symptoms, such as the common cold. SARS is new, and scientists are still searching for answers to many questions about this illness.


People with SARS develop a fever higher than 100.4F (38ºC), followed by respiratory symptoms, such as:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
Other symptoms may include:

  • chills
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • sore throat
  • diarrhea

How SARS Spreads

SARS is spread through close contact with someone infected with the virus that causes SARS. Examples of close contact include:

  • living in the same household
  • providing care to someone with SARS
  • having direct contact with the respiratory secretions and body fluids of someone affected by SARS
At present, the known risk factors for developing SARS are:

  • recent travel to an area where SARS is spreading locally
  • recent close contact with someone who is ill and either has SARS or has been to an area where SARS is spreading locally.
It appears that people with SARS are not contagious until they develop symptoms. This may take up to 10 days from the time they were in close contact with someone affected by SARS.

Health Effects of SARS

Some cases of SARS progress to severe pneumonia or respiratory failure, and this can be fatal. The health effects are more severe for people who are older or have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes. Antibiotics have no effect on this disease since it is a virus. Many anti-viral medications have been tried with limited success. The general approach to the SARS patient is isolation (at home or in a hospital) and general support (oxygen, IV fluids, careful monitoring). The actual fatality rate is less than 10%, but this is always a serious medical condition.

Click on these links to get more information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or New York State Department of Health.