Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

A potentially serious viral infection sometimes causing pneumonia

  • Living in or visiting areas where the disease is known to have occurred is a risk factor
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is believed to have originated in China in late 2002 from where it spread to affect areas around the world. A new strain of coronavirus is the cause of the disease. In most cases, it is spread by close personal contact.

What are the symptoms?

After an incubation period of about 2–7 days, symptoms appear, including sudden onset of fever – generally over 38°C (100.4°F) – sometimes accompanied by chills, aching muscles, and headache. After a further 3–7 days, a dry (nonproductive) cough may develop. There may also be shortness of breath, which may become severe and which may indicate the development of pneumonia.

What might be done?

Various tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis and to exclude other possible causes of pneumonia. The tests may include a blood test to check for antibodies associated with the virus, a viral culture, and a genetic test to look for viral DNA in the blood, faeces, or nasal secretions.

Treatment may include oxygen therapy, with artificial ventilation if necessary. In some cases, antibiotic and/or antiviral drugs may also be given. There is no vaccine or curative treatment at present. Control of the disease depends on physical measures, such as the use of face masks, handwashing, and isolation of infected people.

What is the prognosis?

SARS is not highly infective, and most people who get the disease recover, including those who develop pneumonia. However, in some cases the illness is fatal.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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