Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Prevention
Health Education

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

Dr.Sai Praveen Haranath profile Authored by Dr.Sai Praveen Haranath on 15 May 2015 - 11:40.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness which is caused by a coronavirus called SARS associated coronavirus. SARS is a contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness. This illness first appeared in November 2002 in China and within a few months it spread worldwide due to global travel.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome showed how quickly an infection can spread in a highly interconnected and mobile world. However, international cooperation helped the health experts to immediately reduce the spread of the infection. There is no evidence of known transmission of SARS since 2004 anywhere in the world.



SARS is caused by a strain of coronavirus, which is the same group of viruses that causes common cold. Till now, this group of viruses was not particularly dangerous to the human beings, although they are known to cause severe illness in animals. This is the reason why scientists think that SARS virus have passed from animals to human beings. It seems that this virus has been evolved from one or more animal viruses into a new strain.

Mode of spreading: Like most of the other respiratory illnesses, SARS also spread through droplets which enter into air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Mostly it is spread with face to face contact with the patient, but may also spread through contaminated objects such as telephones, door knobs or elevator buttons.

The symptoms of SARS are usually flu like which start after two to seven days of exposure to the virus. Sometimes it can also take up to ten days. The symptoms include:

  • High fever over 100.4 F
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Pain in muscles
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

After the above symptoms further infection can affect the respiratory tract which leads to the development of following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Dry cough
  • Increasing shortage of oxygen in blood, which can be fatal in severe cases.


Most of the people affected by SARS develop pneumonia. Difficulty in breathing becomes very severe to the extent that a mechanical respirator may be required. Often due to respiratory failure, SARS can be fatal. Other serious complications include liver and heart failure.



In many of the cases of SARS, chest CT and chest X- ray show pneumonia, also it is detected by the abnormal lung sounds heard with a stethoscope.

Tests used in the diagnosis of SARS include:

  • Arterial blood tests
  • Blood chemistry tests
  • Blood clotting tests
  • Chest CT scan
  • Chest  X-ray
  • Complete blood count

The other tests used for confirmation of SARS virus include:

  • Antibody test for SARS
  • Rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for SARS virus

Currently there is no cure for SARS, but research is on to find a vaccine for it. Some researchers are exploring the use of monoclonal antibodies.

A person who is suspected to have SARS infection must be immediately admitted in the hospital and kept under strict observation.

The treatment is mainly symptomatic and supportive. It includes:

  • Antibiotics against bacteria causing pneumonia
  • Antiviral drugs
  • Using a ventilator to assist breathing and deliver oxygen

However there is very little scientific evidence of these treatments’ effectiveness against SARS. Even the antiviral drug, Ribavirin is ineffective against SARS virus.

Avoiding contact with people infected with SARS reduces the risk of getting infected with the disease. Travelling to places where there is uncontrolled outbreak of SARS should be avoided. Direct contact should be avoided with the persons who have SARS until atleast 10 days after their symptoms and fever have subsided.

  • Hand hygiene is very important in the prevention tips of SARS infection. Hands should be washed regularly with an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  • Mouth and nose should be covered while coughing or sneezing as the droplets released into are infectious.
  • Food, drinks and utensils should not be shared.
  • Commonly touched surfaces should be cleaned with a disinfectant.
  • Masks and goggles can be used to prevent the spread of disease.



*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.