Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness with no known cure, believed to be caused by a coronavirus, a virus that is one of the causes of the common cold. Symptoms of SARS are similar to those of flu: a fever over 100.4 degrees, followed by a headache, body aches, and overall discomfort. After 2 to 7 days, patients may develop a dry, unproductive cough and have difficulty breathing.

SARS is spread by direct person-to-person contact, by touching an item or body part that a patient has sneezed or coughed on and then touching a membranous part of your own body, such as the eyes, nose, or mouth. Individuals most at risk to contract SARS are those caring for or living with someone with SARS. In the United States,

SARS was first identified in November 2002 in the Guanghong Province of China and has since been reported in other areas of Asia, North America, and Europe. In July 2003, 8,437 cases of SARS, with 813 deaths, were reported worldwide. There have been no reported cases of SARS since 2004. To keep the danger of SARS in perspective, compare these statistics to those of influenza or the flu. Each year about 114,000 people in the US alone are hospitalized, and about 36,000 people die from the flu. While currently there is no known cure for the SARS virus, scientists and researchers are working every day to understand better the cause of the disease and to help reduce the risk of contracting SARS.

Additional Information

To see other helpful materials on SARS, click on the Readiness, Response, and Recovery tabs at the top of the page.


Readiness: Before Exposure to SARS

One of the best ways to lessen the impact of illness on your family is to be prepared. Here are some steps to take:

Family members should practice preventive behaviors:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill
  • Stay at home when you have symptoms
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing or turn your head and cough into your sleeve

Create a list of emergency telephone numbers, Internet sites, and helpful community resources (such as your family's schools, physicians, local utility companies, fire and police, the local Red Cross, and your community health center).

Know the areas of the world where SARS is found. If you or family members have traveled to a location where there have been reports of SARS or think you may have been exposed to SARS, learn and watch for symptoms for 10 days following possible exposure:

  • Fever (take your temperature two times per day)
  • Body aches
  • Respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough and difficulty breathing

Health professionals: follow guidelines established at your workplace.


Response: After Exposure to SARS

If you have been exposed to SARS, follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  •  Consult a health care provider as soon as possible.
  • Tell the provider about your symptoms prior to going to the office or emergency room, so the health care facility can make arrangements to prevent transmission to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Purchase a surgical mask and wear it during close contact with other people.


Recovery: After Diagnosis of SARS

If you have SARS and are being cared for at home, you should:
  • Follow the instructions given by your health care provider.
  • Do not go to work or school, and avoid public areas outside the home for a 10-day period.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Wash your hands often and well, especially after you have blown your nose.
  • Wear a surgical mask around others in your home. If you can't wear a mask, have members of your household wear one when with you.
  • Don't share silverware, towels, or bedding with anyone in your home until these items have been washed with soap and hot water.
  • Follow these instructions for 10 days after your fever and respiratory symptoms have gone away.

 If you are caring for someone at home who has SARS, you should:

  • Be sure that the person with SARS is following his or her health care provider's instructions for medication and care.
  • Be sure that all members of your household are washing their hands frequently with soap and hot water or are using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Wear disposable gloves if you have direct contact with body fluids of a SARS patient. After contact with body fluids of a SARS patient, remove the gloves, throw them out, and wash your hands. Do not wash or reuse the gloves.
  • Clean surfaces (counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, etc.) that have been exposed to body fluids (sweat, saliva, mucous, vomit, or urine) from the SARS patient with a household disinfectant used according to the manufacturer's instructions. Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and throw these out when you are done. Do not wash or reuse the gloves.
  • Follow these instructions for 10 days after all of the patient's fever and respiratory symptoms have gone away.
  • If you develop a fever or respiratory symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately and report that you have had close contact with a SARS patient and are having symptoms.