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SARS Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

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.

SARS starts with symptoms that are similar to the flu, but usually get worse over a few days.  Seventy percent of patients with SARS develop a serious respiratory illness. Older people and those with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe infection and death.

What Are the Symptoms of SARS?

The most common symptoms of SARS are:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chills or shaking
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea

What Causes SARS?

SARS is caused by a coronavirus, the family of viruses that causes the common cold. The virus is spread by droplets or contact with items the droplets have touched. The virus can live for several hours on surfaces, tissues, etc.

What Are the Risk Factors?

The infection is caused by exposure to someone who is infected with the virus or traveling to an area where the virus is known to be spreading. People are at increased risk for severe infection are usually older, have unusual symptoms that delay recognition of the infection and proper treatment, are male or have other medical illnesses including diabetes and chronic hepatitis B. During the original outbreak in 2003, healthcare workers were also at increased risk of infection because they were exposed to infected patients..

When to See Your Doctor

You should see your doctor if there has been an outbreak of SARS, you have traveled to the area of the outbreak or you have been exposed to someone who has traveled to the area and you have a temperature greater than 100.5, cough, chest pain or difficulty breathing. Most importantly, try to avoid exposing other people and stay away from public areas until you know that you do not have SARS. Even if you are only mildly ill, you should report a possible SARS infection to your doctor to help control the spread of the infection.

    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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