Severe acute respiratory syndrome, commonly called SARS, is a contagious respiratory infection that sometimes causes death. SARS is caused by a type of virus called coronavirus. Researchers believe that one or more animal viruses evolved over time into this new type of coronavirus.
The first case of SARS occurred in China in 2002. In just six weeks, the virus spread to several areas around the globe. From November 2002 to July 2003, the virus was reported in more than 29 countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. During this time, more than 8,098 patients became infected with SARS, and more than 900 died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Eight cases of SARS have been reported in the United States. The SARS outbreak was over by the spring of 2004.
Since the outbreak, only a few cases in humans have been reported each year. This is because health officials have contained the virus, and if it is suspected that an individual is infected, precautionary measures are taken to prevent SARS from spreading. In order for anther outbreak to occur, the virus would have to be transmitted from a laboratory accident, animal source, or humans who were not diagnosed, isolated, and treated quickly.
In addition, scientists believe that some of the cases that were originally diagnosed as SARS may have actually been a more deadly disease called bird flu (avian influenza).
The prognosis for SARS patients varies. However, the death rate is generally considered much higher than the common influenza (flu). About 14-15% of patients who develop SARS die. In patients older than 65 years of age, the death rate is estimated to be higher than 50%.
Currently, treatment for SARS is limited. Patients typically receive a combination of antiviral medications and corticosteroid medications, although the effectiveness of this therapy has not been proven. Additional care, such as oxygen, may also be needed.

Related Terms

Antivirals, coronavirus, corticosteroids, face mask, hypoxia, infection, interferons, lung infection, respiratory failure, respiratory infection, SARS outbreak, severe acute respiratory syndrome, supplemental oxygen, viral infection, virus.