Questions and Answers about
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
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
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
· For family members caring for someone with SARS
· 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.