Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

(This information is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a doctor or a recommendation for any particular treatment plan. Like any printed material, it may become out of date over time. It is important that you rely on the advice of a doctor for your specific condition.)


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are  recently recognized febrile severe lower respiratory illness that is caused by infection with a novel coronavirus.

SARS was recognized as a global threat in March 2003, after first appearing in Southern China in November 2002. During the winter of 2002 through the spring of 2003, WHO received reports of >8,000 SARS cases and nearly 800 deaths. No one knows if SARS-CoV transmission will recur, but it is important to be prepared for that possibility.

In general, SARS begins with a high fever (temperature greater than 38.0°C). Other symptoms may include headache, an overall feeling of discomfort, and body aches. Some people also have mild respiratory symptoms at the outset. About 10 percent to 20 percent of patients have diarrhea. After 2 to 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough. Most patients develop pneumonia.

The main way that SARS seems to spread is by close person-to-person contact. The virus that causes SARS is thought to be transmitted most readily by respiratory droplets (droplet spread) produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplet spread can happen when droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled a short distance (generally up to 1 meter) through the air and deposited on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, or eyes of persons who are nearby. The virus also can spread when a person touches a surface or object contaminated with infectious droplets and then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eye(s). In addition, it is possible that the SARS virus might spread more broadly through the air (airborne spread) or by other ways that are not now known.

In the context of SARS, close contact means having cared for or lived with someone with SARS or having direct contact with respiratory secretions or body fluids of a patient with SARS. Examples of close contact include kissing or hugging, sharing eating or drinking utensils, talking to someone within 1 meter, and touching someone directly. Close contact does not include activities like walking by a person or briefly sitting across a waiting room or office. The time between exposure to SARS-CoV and the onset of symptoms is called the "incubation period." The incubation period for SARS is typically 2 to 7 days, although in some cases it may be as long as 10 days. In a very small proportion of cases, incubation periods of up to 14 days have been reported. No specific treatment recommendations can be made for management of SARS-CoV disease.

MERS was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia after genome sequencing of a virus isolated from sputum samples from patients who fell ill in a 2012 outbreak of a new flu. The signs and symptoms of MERS as same as SARS.

As of 2 May 2014, MERS-CoV cases have been reported in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the United States.

(Source:  WHO & U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)