Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)


In November 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first detected in China.  SARS is a highly contagious and occasionally fatal respiratory illness. Within months, it spread globally through unwitting travelers, highlighting the rapid transmission possible in today’s interconnected world. However, thanks to international cooperation among health authorities, swift containment efforts were successful. Since 2004, there have been no reported instances of SARS transmission worldwide.

The primary mode of transmission for respiratory diseases like SARS is believed to be through the inhalation of airborne droplets released by infected individuals when they cough, sneeze, or talk. Close contact, such as caring for someone with SARS, is a common means of transmission according to most experts. Additionally, contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, phones, and elevator buttons may also contribute to the spread of the virus.


SARS typically starts with flulike symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, and occasionally diarrhea. After approximately a week, additional symptoms may develop, including:

  • Difficulty of breathing
  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Dry cough

SARS is a severe illness that can be fatal. If you experience symptoms of a respiratory infection or flulike symptoms accompanied by fever after traveling abroad, seek medical attention immediately.


SARS is attributed to a strain of coronavirus, belonging to the same family of viruses responsible for the common cold. Historically, these viruses were not considered significant threats to humans. Yet, coronaviruses have been known to cause severe illness in animals, prompting scientists to theorize that the SARS virus may have originated from animals and transmitted to humans. It is likely that the virus underwent evolutionary changes, possibly arising from one or more animal viruses, to become a new strain.

Risk factors

Individuals at the greatest risk of contracting SARS are typically those who have had direct and close contact with an infected person, including family members and healthcare workers.