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SARS

Questions and Answers about SARS:
Updated January 2, 2004


What is SARS?

SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome is a viral respiratory illness caused by the SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003 and spread to more than two dozen countries. There were a total of 8,422 cases reported and 912 people died. In the United States there were 192 cases and no deaths.

Although this outbreak was contained, it is possible that the disease could re-emerge. As of December 2003, two cases have occurred in research workers in Taiwan and there is a suspect case of SARS in China. Updates are posted on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars (news and highlights section).

What are the symptoms of SARS?

The illness usually begins with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Other symptoms may include body aches and an overall feeling of discomfort. Some people also have mild respiratory symptoms and 10 – 20 % will develop diarrhea. After 2 – 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough. Most patients develop pneumonia.

How long does it take to get sick with SARS?

The incubation period for SARS is usually 2 – 7 days but can be as long as 10 days after exposure.

How is SARS spread?

The main way that SARS seems to spread is by close person-to-person contact. The SARS virus can be spread through respiratory droplets from a person with SARS, for example when a person with SARS sneezes or coughs directly on someone. Droplet spread can also occur when droplets from a cough or sneeze travel a short distance through the air and are deposited on the membranes of the nose, mouth or eyes of persons who are sitting nearby (generally within 3 feet).

The infection may also spread from contact with objects contaminated with respiratory secretions from sick persons. In addition, it is possible that the SARS virus might spread more broadly through the air or by other ways that are not now known.

Most cases of SARS have occurred in travelers who visit areas where there is spread of the disease in the community they travel to.

What does close person-to-person contact mean?

Close contact means that the person has cared for or lived with someone with SARS or has had direct contact with respiratory droplets or body fluids of a person with SARS. Examples of close contact include kissing or hugging, sharing eating or drinking utensils, talking to someone within 3 feet, and touching someone directly. It does not include activities like walking by a person or sitting across a waiting room or office for a brief time.

How do I protect myself?

If SARS were to re-emerge, there are some common-sense precautions that you can take that apply to many infectious diseases. The most important is frequent handwashing with soap and water or the use of alcohol-based hand rubs. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands and encourage people around you to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.


The CDC has specific recommendations and guidelines on their website for the following circumstances:

· For individuals considering travel to areas with SARS www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/travel.htm

· For family members caring for someone with SARS www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/ic.htm#patients

· For health-care workers in health care and institutional settings: Use infection control recommendations and exposure guidelines as outlined in www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/ic.htm#patients

· For individuals who think they might have SARS: Consult your health-care provider. Make sure to tell them about any recent travel or whether you have been in contact with anyone who had symptoms of SARS.


SARS information continues to be updated very frequently. The CDC posts the most up-to-date information on their main website at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars.