SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

Since late February 2003, CDC has been supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) in the investigation of a multicountry outbreak of atypical pneumonia being referred to as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

You are at risk of contracting SARS if you have returned from travel to parts of Asia, including China (Guangdong Province), Hong Kong, Singapore or Vietnam (Hanoi). Symptoms appear within 10 days of exposure. If you have been exposed and have symptoms you should see a doctor immediately.

Based on currently available evidence, close contact with an infected person poses the highest risk of the infective agent spreading from one person to another. To date, the majority of cases have occurred in hospital workers who have cared for SARS patients and close family members and other close contacts of these patients. However, the amount of the infective agent needed to cause an infection has not yet been determined. The SARS virus can live up to 4 days on a toilet seat.

The greatest protection is provided by the use of a surgical mask during any exposure – more effective than the use of a gown, gloves and hand washing combined.

Initial diagnostic testing for suspected SARS patients should include chest radiograph, pulse oximetry, blood cultures, sputum Gram’s stain and culture, and testing for viral respiratory pathogens, notably influenza A and B and respiratory syncytial virus. A specimen for Legionella and pneumococcal urinary antigen testing should also be considered. Clinicians should save any available clinical specimens (respiratory, blood, and serum) for additional testing until a specific diagnosis is made. Acute and convalescent (greater than 21 days after onset of symptoms) serum samples should be collected from each patient who meets the SARS case definition. Paired sera and other clinical specimens can be forwarded through State and local health departments for testing at CDC. Specific instructions for collecting specimens from suspected SARS patients are available.

No specific treatment recommendations can be made at this time. Empiric therapy should include coverage for organisms associated with any community-acquired pneumonia of unclear etiology, including agents with activity against both typical and atypical respiratory pathogens. Treatment choices may be influenced by severity of the illness. Infectious disease consultation is recommended.


Signs, symptoms & indicators of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

Symptoms - Food - General  

Recent loss of appetite

Symptoms - Metabolic  

Current atypical recent headaches


Having a moderate/having a high fever


Having chills from an illness

Symptoms - Muscular  

Tight/rigid muscles

Patients with SARS may experience muscular stiffness.

Symptoms - Respiratory  

Recent productive cough


Recent nonproductive cough


Sudden shortness of breath

Symptoms - Skin - Conditions  

Current rash

Conditions that suggest SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)


Recommendations for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)



Weak or unproven link
Highly recommended



An illness or symptom of sudden onset, which generally has a short duration.


Any of a vast group of minute structures composed of a protein coat and a core of DNA and/or RNA that reproduces in the cells of the infected host. Capable of infecting all animals and plants, causing devastating disease in immunocompromised individuals. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics, and are completely dependent upon the cells of the infected host for the ability to reproduce.


A substance, usually protein or protein-sugar complex in nature, which, being foreign to the bloodstream or tissues of an animal, stimulates the formation of specific blood serum antibodies and white blood cell activity. Re-exposure to similar antigen will reactivate the white blood cells and antibody programmed against this specific antigen.


The cell-free fluid of the bloodstream. It appears in a test tube after the blood clots and is often used in expressions relating to the levels of certain compounds in the blood stream.

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