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SARS: Symptoms, Prevention, & Treatment

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a serious form of viral pneumonia caused by the SARS coronavirus. The virus that causes SARS was first identified in 2003.

The World Health Organization has designated SARS a global health threat. In 2003, an epidemic killed approximately 774 people worldwide before it was successfully contained.

No new cases of SARS have been reported since 2004.

SARS symptoms are similar to those of the flu, including:

  • fever over 100.4°F
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • problems breathing, including shortness of breath
  • headache
  • body aches
  • loss of appetite
  • malaise
  • night sweats and chills
  • confusion
  • rash
  • diarrhea

Breathing issues will appear within two to 10 days after a person is exposed to the virus. Health officials will quarantine a person who presents the above symptoms and family members if they have a history of foreign travel. The person will be quarantined for 10 days to prevent the virus from spreading.

Factors that increase your risk of contracting the disease include close contact with someone diagnosed with SARS and a history of travel to any other country with a reported SARS outbreak.

SARS can spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or comes into face-to-face contact with someone else. Face-to-face contact refers to:

  • caring for someone with SARS
  • having contact with the bodily fluids of a person with SARS
  • kissing, hugging, touching, or sharing eating or drinking utensils with an infected person

You can also contract SARS by touching a surface contaminated with respiratory droplets from an infected person and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. The disease may also be spread through the air, but researchers have not confirmed this.

Various lab tests have been developed to detect the SARS virus. During the first outbreak of SARS, there were no laboratory tests for the disease. Diagnosis was made primarily through symptoms and medical history. Now, laboratory tests can be performed on nasal and throat swabs or blood samples. A chest X-ray or CT scan may also reveal signs of pneumonia characteristic of SARS.

Most of the fatalities associated with SARS result from respiratory failure. SARS can also lead to heart and liver failure. The group most at risk of developing complications is people over 60 who have been diagnosed with another chronic condition.

There is no confirmed treatment that works for every person who has SARS. Antiviral medications and steroids are sometimes given to reduce lung swelling, but aren’t effective for everyone.

Supplemental oxygen or a ventilator may be prescribed if necessary. In severe cases, blood plasma from someone who has already recovered from SARS may also be administered. However, there is not yet enough evidence to prove that these treatments are effective.

Researchers are currently working on a vaccine for SARS, but there have been no human trials for any potential vaccine. Because there’s no confirmed treatment or cure for SARS, it’s important to take as many preventive measures as possible.

Here are some of the best ways to prevent transmission of SARS if you’re in close contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with the disease:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wear disposable gloves if touching any infected bodily fluids.
  • Wear a surgical mask when in the same room with a person with SARS.
  • Disinfect surfaces that may have been contaminated with the virus.
  • Wash all personal items, including bedding and utensils, used by a person with SARS.

Moreover, follow all of the above steps for at least 10 days after the symptoms of SARS have gone away. Keep children home from school if they develop a fever or any breathing problems after coming in contact with someone with SARS.

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