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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is an infectious condition that can cause serious respiratory illness and sometimes death. SARS became a concern in 2003 when an outbreak that began in China spread worldwide causing a global epidemic. The disease was contained and there have been no cases of SARS anywhere in the world since 2004.

About SARS

SARS is caused by a coronavirus, the same family of viruses that causes some common colds. Like most respiratory viruses, SARS appeared to spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing and close contact. Symptoms of the infection seen during the 2003 outbreak included those similar to the flu: fever, cough, chills, fatigue, shortness of breath, headache and diarrhea. The infection progressed rapidly and most people with SARS needed to be hospitalized and isolated to prevent spread of the virus to other people, including healthcare workers.

Learn more about coronaviruses.

Impact of SARS Epidemic

The 2003 epidemic was responsible for more than 8,000 cases of SARS in 29 countries, including 29 cases in the United States. There were 774 SARS-related deaths; none reported in the U.S. SARS was fatal for 1 in 10 patients. Age was an important factor in mortality; the risk of the disease being fatal increased to about half of patients over the age of 60. A small percentage of patients had long-term effects from their illness, including depression or anxiety, cough, shortness of breath, chronic lung disease or kidney disease. However, most patients fully recovered.

Preventing SARS

Although there have been no cases of SARS anywhere in the world since 2004, preventing spread of this illness is similar to preventing any viral respiratory infection: avoid close contact with affected individuals, wash your hands with soap and water, and encourage people with viral respiratory infections to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor disease activity worldwide and has established guidelines for emergency preparedness and response should another SARS outbreak ever emerge.

Visit the WHO website to learn more about SARS.

This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

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