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SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a condition caused by a virus that damages the air sacs of the lungs. The lung tissues become inflamed and scarred. The damaged air sacs do not allow oxygen to get into your bloodstream, which may cause respiratory failure. Respiratory failure means you cannot breathe well enough to get oxygen to the cells of your body. The SARS virus is related to other viruses that cause common colds and diarrhea. It may be found in saliva, sputum, or discharge from the nose of an infected person.

The Lungs


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Keep the head of your bed raised to help you breathe easier.

You can also raise your head and shoulders on pillows or rest in a reclining chair. If you feel short of breath, let healthcare providers know right away.


is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.

A pulse oximeter

is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine.

Isolation safety measures

may be used if you have an infection that can be passed from person to person. Healthcare providers and visitors may need to wear gloves, a face mask, or a gown. Visitors should wash their hands before leaving to keep from spreading germs.


  • Antivirals help treat or prevent a viral infection.
  • Bronchodilators help open the air passages in your lungs, and help you breathe more easily.
  • Antipyretics decrease a fever.
  • Steroids lower inflammation to open your air passages so you can breathe easier.


  • Blood samples may be tested for the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The results can tell healthcare providers how well your lungs are working. Blood tests can also give healthcare providers information about how your body is working.
  • X-ray pictures may be used to check for signs of infection, such as pneumonia.


  • Breathing treatments help open your airway so you can breathe easier. A machine may be used to help you breathe in medicine.
  • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.


SARS is a serious, life-threatening disease, and treatment should not be delayed. If not treated early, the SARS virus may badly damage your lungs and cause more breathing problems. SARS may lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia causes the lungs to become swollen and filled with fluid. Fluid in the lungs causes severe shortness of breath and may lead to respiratory failure. Respiratory failure means you cannot breathe well enough to get oxygen to the cells of your body. This may affect your heart and brain and be life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.