Learn About Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) | American Lung Association

Learn About Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is an infectious condition that can cause serious respiratory illness or death.   

Key Facts

  • SARS is caused by a coronavirus, the family of viruses that causes the common cold. SARS is a rapidly progressive respiratory illness that is spread from person to person.
  • An outbreak of SARS occurred in 2003 and started in China but progressed worldwide before it was contained.
  • There have been no cases of SARS anywhere in the world since 2004

What Is SARS?

SARS is a severe respiratory illness that can be spread from person to person. An outbreak of SARS occurred in 2003 and started in China but progressed worldwide and caused the death of almost 1 out of every 10 people infected. SARS is highly contagious and is transmitted by respiratory droplets or contact with other bodily fluids. People develop symptoms from the infection 2 to 7 days after they are exposed.

How SARS Affects Your Body

Symptoms of infection usually occur 2 to 10 days after exposure. SARS infection initially causes a fever, headache and fatigue. Respiratory symptoms including a dry cough and increasing shortness of breath, developing within 2 to 7 days. Most patients have pneumonia that can be seen on a chest X-ray by day 7 to 10. Some patients become very ill and require mechanical ventilation.

How Serious Is SARS?

Infection with SARS is life-threatening, especially in adults older than age 60. Overall, 1 out of 10 patients infected with SARS will die, but half of patients over the age of 60 will die. Most people infected with SARS require hospitalization and time in an intensive care unit.


    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.


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