Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory infection that was first identified in a 2003 outbreak.
The Respiratory System
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SARS is caused by a specific group of viruses. The viruses are spread from droplets in the air. The droplets come from spray when a sick person sneezes or coughs. Viruses can also be picked up from objects that an ill person has touched.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing SARS include:
- Gene variation in the immune system—This gene variation may be more common in people in Southeast Asia. The variation makes people more susceptible to developing SARS.
- Recent travel to locations in Asia where SARS outbreaks have been reported.
- Close contact with someone who has SARS.
- Healthcare workers who care for patients with SARS.
SARS requires care from your doctor. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor right away.
SARS may cause:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches and pains
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Malaise (a general feeling of discomfort)
- Muscular stiffness
- Loss of appetite
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Blood culture
- Sputum culture
- Detection of SARS viruses in blood, sputum, and stool by:
- Pulse oximetry to measure the oxygen level in your blood
- Chest x-ray
The diagnosis is made by a combination of the typical symptoms and detection of the virus
There are currently no medications to treat or cure SARS. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics and current antiviral drugs have not had any effect.
Researchers are looking for ways to shorten the course and severity of the infection with:
- Medications that suppress or enhance the immune system
The symptoms of SARS will be treated with oxygen therapy if it is needed. If you are having difficulty breathing, you may be given oxygen through a tube or mask. More severe problems may require a machine to help you breathe.
To help reduce your chance of getting SARS, take these steps:
proper hand washing.
- Regularly use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Disinfect toilets, sinks, or other objects or surfaces used by anyone with SARS.
- Do not share utensils, glasses, towels, or linen with anyone with SARS.
- If you are a healthcare worker, use gloves, gown, and use eye protection when caring for patients with SARS.
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Severe acute respiratory syndrome. American Lung Association website. Available at:
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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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