SARS Summary

SARS Overview - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. Over the next few months, the illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, and many of these countries were subject to travel advisories and alerts. As of this writing (January 2004), SARS is no longer considered a serious problem. The SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained; however, it is possible that the disease could re-emerge. This fact sheet gives basic information about the illness and what CDC has done to control SARS in the United States. To find out more about SARS, go to the CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization).

Impact of SARS - According to the World Health Organization, during the SARS outbreak of 2003, a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS; of these, 774 died. In the United States, 192 people were infected with SARS, all of whom got better. Through July 2003, laboratory evidence of SARS-CoV infection had been detected in only eight U.S. cases. Most of the U.S. SARS cases were among travelers returning from other parts of the world with SARS. There were very few U.S. cases among close contacts of travelers, including health-care workers and family members. SARS did not spread widely in the community in the United States.

Symptoms of SARS - In general, SARS begins with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4°F [>38.0°C]). Other symptoms may include headache, an overall feeling of discomfort, and body aches. Some people also have mild respiratory symptoms at the outset. About 10 percent to 20 percent of patients have diarrhea. After 2 to 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough. Most patients develop pneumonia.

How SARS Spreads - The main way that SARS seems to spread is by close person-to-person contact. The virus that causes SARS is thought to be transmitted most readily by respiratory droplets (droplet spread) produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplet spread can happen when droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled a short distance (generally up to 3 feet) through the air and deposited on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, or eyes of persons who are nearby. The virus also can spread when a person touches a surface or object contaminated with infectious droplets and then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eye(s). In addition, it is possible that the SARS virus might spread more broadly through the air (airborne spread) or by other ways that are not now known.

What Does "Close Contact" Mean? - In the context of SARS, close contact means having cared for or lived someone with SARS or having direct contact with respiratory secretions or body fluids of a patient 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. Close contact does not include activities like walking by a person or sitting across a waiting room or office for a brief time.