If you follow the news at all, you probably remember reports of occurrences of SARS, a respiratory illness caused by a particular strain of the corona virus. Hong Kong, China and other Asian destinations had reports of outbreaks and deaths. SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and can be first publicly traced back to China in November of 2002.

Travel advisories to Hong Kong were issued around March 2003 by the World Health Organization because it was not known what the cause was at the time. By the end of July, almost 10,000 people were affected with almost 1,000 deaths, quite significant for industrialized areas.

Travels Fast

The scary part about SARS is that is can easily travel around the world. People can unknowingly travel via airplane anywhere in the world, thinking they have a simple cold at first. Can you imagine, coughing or sneezing in an enclosed space with re-circulated air? It can be quite easy to spread SARS to an entire airplane.

The virus is transmitted through the bodily fluids, usually through sneezing and coughing. The droplets emitted can land on telephones, door knobs and more and the virus can live for several days on these surfaces. Touching these infected areas and then rubbing your eyes or putting your fingers in your mouth or any other mucosal area can easily capture this virus.

Course of Disease

Between two to seven days is the normal incubation period of SARS. However, some people may not exhibit symptoms until as long as two weeks later. A fever higher than 100 F is common as are chills. A general ill feel not unlike the flu may occur with body aches and headaches. Breathing may be difficult and up to 1/5 of infected people experience diarrhea too.

After three to seven days, a dry cough may occur and the level of oxygen in the blood may drop. This health occurrence is known as hypoxia. People without treatment or not responding well to treatment may have their case of SARS progress to pneumonia. Even animals can contract SARS so it is important to keep any animals isolated to avoid infecting them.

Doctors recommend that you wait at least ten days after symptoms and fever go away before venturing in public. The reason is because you could still pass on SARS during this time. In addition, because of your lowered immune system, you are also susceptible to other illnesses. It is important also during and after your illness to cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze to avoid spreading germs.


Treatment for SARS consists of the same treatment that is administered for certain type of pneumonia. As it stems from a virus, of which no cure exists, alleviating the symptoms is perhaps one of the only things you can do. In the meantime, the World Health Organization as well as other medical research entities is working on vaccines for SARS as well as testing anti-viral drugs and their effectiveness against the disease.

As SARS is passed along much like the common cold, it is important to stay away from areas that have had outbreaks in addition to individuals who have the disease. When this is not possible, you may want to wear a N95 or higher rated mask to protect yourself from inhaling the coronavirus that causes SARS.

Do not share glasses or utensils with people who appear sick and keep your distance, anywhere from three to five feet is best. Wash your hands often and avoid touching anywhere near your mouth, nose and eyes when out in public so as to avoid infecting yourself should you touch a contaminated surface.

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