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Diagnosing and Treating SARS

Note: 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.

There are different types of lab tests to confirm a case of SARS, including antibody tests, isolation of the virus and others. In addition, a chest X-ray or chest CT scan will often show findings of pneumonia with SARS. You should notify your doctor if you think you have SARS so that you can be tested and treated.

What to Expect

SARS can be a rapidly progressive respiratory illness. There are only a few cases of patients with no or even mild symptoms. Most patients develop persistent fever and shortness of breath, but about 30 percent of infected people improve within in one week.

How SARS Is Diagnosed

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published specific guidelines for when your doctor should suspect a case of SARS.
  • Lab tests to detect SARS virus include a blood test, a nasal swab or a sample from your stool or urine, or growing the virus in culture.
  • Your doctor may send these lab tests if you have symptoms consistent with possible SARS and close contact within 10 days with a person suspected of having SARS, or travel within 10 days to an area with documented transmission of SARS. 

How SARS Is Treated

Currently, there is no specific medication that can treat SARS. Many treatments have been studied but due to the rapid spread and control of the infection, no definite treatment has been found.

People with mild illness can remain at home and try not to spread the virus to other people.

Sicker people are usually hospitalized, and therapy focuses on supportive treatment, including intravenous fluids, oxygen and possible antibiotics to treat other infections.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor about SARS

  • What should I do if I think I have SARS?
  • What should I do if I think someone close to me has SARS?
  • How can I prevent SARS?

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

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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