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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome: A Fatal Contagious Disease

Submitted by on October 28, 2014 – 10:31 PM

sarsSevere acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a highly contagious,serious and potentially life-threatening viral respiratory illness. SARS is caused by the SARS coronavirus (SARS CoV). Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The six coronaviruses that can infect people are: alpha coronaviruses 229E and NL63, and beta coronaviruses OC43, HKU1, SARS-CoV (the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS), and MERS-CoV (the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS).


SARS originated in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002 and has subsequently spread around the world.China and its surrounding countries have witnessed the greatest numbers of SARS-related cases and death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of July 2003, a total of 8,437 people worldwide became ill with SARS and 813 died during the outbreak or epidemic. Illness was reported in more than 30 countries and on five continents.


SARS is an airborne virus,replicates in both the lungs and gastrointestinal tract tissues. The SARS virus is spread by close person-to-person through respiratory secretions. Transmission may occur by droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs. SARS can also be spread indirectly when a person touches a surface contaminated with the droplets. Oral-fecal transmission of SARS may also occur.


Symptoms of SARS are divided in two stages. Stage 1 is flu-like symptoms that usually begin 2-10 days after infection. Symptoms of this stage include high fever of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above, malaise, anorexia, headaches , chills, muscle pain, loss of appetite and diarrhea. Other symptoms include sputum production, Sore throat, coryza, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea.


Stage 2 [Between 3-7 days] is the lower respiratory tract phase and is characterized by the following symptoms: dry cough, dyspnea, progressive hypoxemia, respiratory failure (requires mechanical ventilation). SARS may progress to pneumonia, respiratory failure, and sometimes death. Other possible complications include heart and liver failure. Tissue samples show the most damage occurs in the lung alveoli where lung function is compromised producing a severe breathing disorder termed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).


Risk factors for SARS include recent travel to places where there is an uncontrolled SARS outbreak,or close contact with ill people with a history of recent travel to these areas, health-care workers with direct contact with a patient having SARS-CoV, or a worker in a laboratory that contains live SARS-CoV were at significant risk of acquiring the infection during the outbreak.



Laboratory tests can be done to confirm whether your illness may be caused by common human coronaviruses. Initial tests used to diagnose SARS  include Pulse oximetry, Sputum Gram stain and culture,Viral respiratory pathogen tests, notably influenza A and B viruses and respiratory syncytial virus, Serological testing for antibodies to human coronaviruses. Serological testing requires collection of blood specimens, direct isolation of the SARS virus, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for SARS virus. Other tests used to diagnose SARS might include Arterial  blood tests, Blood clotting tests, Chest x-ray or chest CT scan, Complete blood  count (CBC). Nose and throat swabs are the best specimens for detecting common human coronaviruses.


No medication has been proven to treat SARS effectively, treatment for SARS is mainly  supportive and may include antibiotics to treat bacteria that cause pneumonia, antiviral medications (ribavirin is known to be ineffective at treating SARS), high doses of corticosteroids or interferon-alpha to reduce swelling in the lungs, assisting with breathing using a ventilator to deliver oxygen and  chest therapy. In some serious cases, the liquid part of blood from people who have already recovered from SARS has been given as a treatment. SARS patients should be admitted to hospital immediately and kept in isolation under close observation. There is currently no cure for SARS, but research to find a vaccine is ongoing.


To reduce your risk of becoming infected, it is important to follow the following precautions, which includes avoid travelling to areas of the world where there is an uncontrolled SARS outbreak, avoid direct contact with people with SARS, wash your hands thoroughly using an alcohol-based hand detergent, cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask because droplets that are released when a person sneezes or coughs are infectious. Wearing eyeglasses also may offer some protection, avoid sharing food, drink and utensils. Clean commonly touched surfaces with an EPA-approved disinfectant and wear disposable gloves. Follow all precautions for at least 10 days after the person’s signs and symptoms have disappeared.



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