SARS is a respiratory illness that is caused by a corona virus called SARS-associated corona virus (SARS-CoV). Corona viruses are a common cause of upper respiratory illnesses - including the common cold - in humans and cause a number of diseases in animals.
The first reported case of severe acute respiratory syndrome surfaced in China in November 2002. Since then, the virus has been reported in other parts of Asia (Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand), North America (the United States and Canada) and Europe.
How a person gets affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome?
Doctors believe that the most common way people get severe acute respiratory syndrome is through direct contact with infectious material (for example, respiratory secretions) from an infected person. Potential ways in which SARS can be spread include touching the skin of other people or objects that are contaminated with infectious droplets from a cough or sneeze of a SARS-infected person. It is possible that severe acute respiratory syndrome can be spread more broadly through the air or by other ways that are not currently known.
Information to date suggests that people infected with SARS are most likely to spread the illness to others when they have symptoms. It is not known for how long before or after symptoms begin that SARS might be able to be transmitted to others.
In areas of the world with severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreaks, individuals at highest risk have been those who have had direct close contact with an infected person, such as those sharing a household with a SARS patient as well as healthcare workers who care for SARS patients.
How long does it take for severe acute respiratory syndrome to develop?
After exposure to SARS, it takes from between 2 to 10 days for the illness to develop. As is true with the common cold, keep in mind that not everyone who comes in contact with the virus develops the illness.
To meet the diagnosis of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a person must have:
- A temperature greater than 100.4 degrees
- One or more symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or hypoxia (less than the normal level of oxygen in the blood), or x-ray evidence of pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome. These symptoms develop 2 to 7 days after initial symptoms, which include headache, body aches and a general feeling of discomfort
- Laboratory evidence of SARS (detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome -associated corona virus and/or antibodies to SARS-associated corona virus)
At this point in time, there are no medications, vaccines, or antiviral therapies that precisely target SARS. People who are diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome are being treated as if they had pneumonia, meaning they are prescribed antibiotics if doctors believe that is necessary. Fortunately, most people who contract SARS seem to fully recover.
What should be done if one has all the symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome?
Try to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and wear a facemask if possible. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and especially after blowing your nose. Do not share any items that you touch with family members until they have been washed in soap and hot water. This includes silverware, towels and bedding. Keep surfaces, such as countertops, doorknobs and bathroom fixtures clean by using household disinfectants and disposable gloves. Limit interactions outside the home for 10 days after the respiratory symptoms and fever are gone. Do not go to work, school or other public areas. Visit your family physician for further instructions.