What is SARS?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome
(SARS) is a respiratory illness that first infected people in parts of Asia,
North America, and Europe in late 2002 and early 2003. SARS is caused by a type
of coronavirus, which can cause mild to moderate
upper respiratory illness, such as the common cold. This virus is known as
Experts believe SARS may have first developed in animals
because the virus has been found in civets—a catlike wild animal that is eaten
as a delicacy in China—and other animals.1 In the
first outbreak 8,096 people became sick with SARS and 774 died.2
How is SARS spread?
Like most respiratory
illnesses, SARS is spread mainly through contact with infected saliva or
droplets from coughing. You cannot get SARS from brief, casual exposure to an
infected person, such as passing someone on the street. In general,
you need to have close contact to become infected. Close contact
includes living with or caring for a person who has SARS or breathing in air
that an infected person exhaled. But under some conditions, SARS has
spread within an apartment building and to health care workers.
Outbreaks of SARS do not appear to be seasonal.
An infection may develop
- Sharing food or drink with an infected
- Hugging or kissing a person who has
- Close contact with an infected
- Getting the
tiny droplets on your hands by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and
then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
It is possible SARS can be transmitted in other ways,
such as by touching objects that are contaminated with feces from an infected
person. This could happen if people do not wash their hands after using the
The disease does not appear to spread from a mother to
her baby at birth.1
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms are a
fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. A person with
SARS also may experience a headache, muscle aches, a sore throat, fatigue, and
diarrhea. Older people may feel generally unwell (malaise) and lose their
appetite but not have a fever.1 For some people the
symptoms get worse quickly, making a hospital stay necessary.
The incubation period—the time
from when a person is first exposed to SARS until symptoms appear—is usually 3
to 7 days but may be as long as 10 days. Experts believe a person can spread
the illness to others only while he or she has symptoms. As a precaution,
though, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends
that people who have SARS stay home, except for doctor visits, until 10 days
after their symptoms have gone away.