How Dangerous is SARS?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral and very contagious respiratory illness that is caused by coronavirus.  It was first reported in February of 2003 in Asia and was spread to more than 24 countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia over the next several months before it was contained.

2003 SARS Outbreak

The World Health Organization reports that 8,098 people became ill with SARS during the outbreak in 2003 and 774 (9%) of these people died.  Only eight people in the U.S. were infected that had medical evidence. Each of these eight people had traveled to countries in the world where the disease was present and spreading.

What are the Symptoms of SARS?

Coronavirus causes symptoms that are similar to that of a common cold. Overall, people infected with SARS started with a high fever (exceeding temperatures of 100.4°F).  Other reported symptoms included headaches, body pains, discomfort and aches, and fatigue.  Some of the infect suffered from mild respiratory symptoms like a sore throat and shortness of breath and some experienced diarrhea.  A dry cough may develop in SARS patients after 2-7 days and the majority of patients developed pneumonia. The incubation period of SARS is 3-10 days.

How Does SARS Spread?

SARS spreads by person-to-person contact.  Just like other respiratory illnesses, human saliva or respiratory droplets that are produced by an infected persons sneeze or a cough transmit the disease.  These respiratory droplets can typically be propelled up to 3 feet and can land on the eyes, mouth, and nose of another person nearby.  SARS can also be spread when a person touches a surface that is contaminated with the virus then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes. People in close contact with one another are likely to spread the germs.  For example, kissing, touching or hugging an infected person, sharing food or drinks with an infected person, talking to an infected person within three feet of you, touching a contaminated object, etc.

How Dangerous is SARS?

There have not been any reported cases of the disease in the world since 2004, the Center Diseases of Control says.  Even though most people will recover from SARS, about 10% will die. Those that are older in age (65+) and people with chronic ailments (like, diabetes, heart disease, and COPD) are at a higher risk of death.

Treatment of SARS

Because SARS is viral, there is no cure.  Although, there are medications available like ribavirin or interferon to help manage the symptoms of SARS.

Preventing SARS

Many people in Asian countries wear faces to prevent the passing of infection, however, the CDC doesnt recommend it at this time.  They do recommend, however, frequently washing your hands with warm, soapy water.  If you are unable to wash your hands, use an alcohol-based sanitizer until you are able to wash.  Avoid crowds, large gatherings, and individuals that have been infected with SARS.

If you have further questions regarding SARS and would like more information, please reach out to your doctor and visit the CDC website.