Understanding Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

What Causes SARS?

SARS is caused by a group of viruses called the coronaviruses. It was first identified during an outbreak in Asia in 2003.

How is SARS Spread?

Scientists believe the main way that SARS spreads is by close person-to-person contact, when someone infected with SARS coughs or sneezes. "Close contact" is:

  • having cared for or lived with someone with SARS
  • having a high likelihood of direct contact with coughs, sneezes and/or body fluids of someone  known to have SARS. For example: kissing or embracing, sharing eating or drinking utensils, talking to someone within 3 feet, physical examination, and any other direct physical contact between people.

Close contact does not include activities such as walking by a person or briefly sitting across from someone in a waiting room or office.

The virus also can spread when a person touches a surface or object contaminated with infectious droplets (from a cough or a sneeze) and then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eye(s).

Scientists suspect that the virus also might spread more broadly through the air or by other ways that are currently not known.

Who Gets SARS?

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, thousands of people who got SARS all had close contact with someone else known to have the virus. More than 8,000 people were diagnosed with SARS in 2003-2004, mainly in Asia.

How Serious is SARS?

  • How serious SARS can be depends on each case and, in part, the overall health of the person with the virus.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 774 of the 8,096 people worldwide who became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak died.

What does SARS do to Your Body?

  • SARS is a lower respiratory virus.
  • The main complication of SARS is pneumonia, which can be very serious.
  • People with SARS can be very uncomfortable from the symptoms as well.