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SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 2, 2024.

What is severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)?

SARS is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. It is sometimes called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Coronavirus is the name of a group of viruses. The viruses are common and usually cause mild infections, such as a cold.

The Lungs

What are the signs and symptoms of SARS?

Signs and symptoms range from mild to severe. SARS may lead to severe, life-threatening problems. The virus 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, leading to respiratory failure. Respiratory failure means you cannot breathe well enough to get oxygen to the cells of your body. Your risk is higher if you have a weak immune system. A health condition such as diabetes or a lung disease also increases your risk. Any of the following may appear 4 to 10 days after you have been exposed to the SARS virus:

How is SARS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may diagnose SARS based on your signs and symptoms and recent travel history. He or she may also want to know if you had a possible exposure to someone infected with the SARS virus. You may also need one or more of the following tests:

How is SARS treated?

No medicine is available to treat SARS. Any of the following may be used to treat symptoms or pneumonia caused by SARS:

What can I do to care for myself?

How can I prevent the spread of the SARS virus?

The SARS virus is spread when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. Others can become infected by breathing in the virus or getting the virus in their eyes. Follow the directions below to prevent the spread of the SARS virus:

Where can I find more information?

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

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. 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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Treatment options

Further information

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