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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - Overview

How is SARS diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect SARS if you have a fever and you either have traveled to a SARS-affected area or have in the past 10 days been around a person who has SARS.

Your doctor may order several tests to find out the cause of your symptoms. A chest X-ray may be done if you are short of breath or coughing. A blood sample, sputum sample, or nasal swab may be done to detect bacteria or viruses. Your doctor may suspect that you have SARS if tests rule out any other cause for your symptoms, especially if you had contact with someone who has SARS or you traveled to an area experiencing a SARS outbreak. In this case, blood tests may be done to detect substances in your blood (antibodies) that form to fight the SARS virus.

You will need at least two tests for antibodies done on separate days to confirm an infection. You also may have tests to detect the genetic material (RNA) of the SARS virus. RNA testing is not available everywhere.

How is it treated?

Severe cases of SARS often require a hospital stay, especially if breathing problems develop. You will be placed in isolation to prevent passing the disease to others. Various medicines—including corticosteroids and the antiviral medicine ribavirin—have been used to treat SARS. But no medicine is known to cure the illness. Doctors continue to search for an effective treatment. One early study showed that the antiviral medicine interferon alfacon-1, taken along with corticosteroids, may help in the treatment of SARS by increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood.3

About one-third (33 out of 100) of the people with SARS become ill and then recover.4 The illness gets worse in two-thirds (67 out of 100) of the people and is likely to lead to hospitalization.

The risk of dying from SARS depends on a person's age and health. The greatest risk is to people older than 65 and those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. About 9 out of 10 people infected with SARS recover. About 1 out of 10 people infected with SARS dies.5, 6

How can I avoid being infected with SARS?

The best way to prevent the spread of SARS is to avoid areas where there is an outbreak and avoid contact with people who may be infected. You can also reduce your risk of infection by washing your hands often with soap or alcohol hand cleaners. If an outbreak occurs, try to avoid large public gatherings. The CDC does not recommend wearing face masks in public to prevent infection, although this is a common practice in Asian countries such as Japan.

Researchers are currently trying to develop vaccines to prevent SARS infection. But no vaccines are being tested in humans yet.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 13, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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