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Diseases & Topics

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV). (Learn more about coronavirus infections.) SARS was first reported in February 2003 in Asia, and within months had spread to more than two dozen countries around the world, including the United States and the state of North Carolina, before the outbreak was contained. Over 8,000 people worldwide were reported ill, and 774 died. In the U.S., only eight people had laboratory evidence of SARS infection. All of those people had traveled to other parts of the world where there were already SARS cases. Thanks to a rapid public health response, SARS did not spread more widely in the community in the United States.

In general, SARS begins with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4°F). Other symptoms include headache, an overall feeling of discomfort and body aches. Some people had mild respiratory symptoms at the outset. About 10 to 20 percent of patients had diarrhea. After two to seven days, some SARS patients developed a dry cough. Most developed pneumonia.

The main way that SARS seems to spread is by close person-to-person contact. The virus that causes SARS is thought to be transmitted most readily by respiratory droplets, in the air or on surfaces, produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

While there has not been another outbreak of SARS since 2003-2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to work with the World Health Organization (WHO), other federal agencies, state and local health departments (including N.C. DHHS), and healthcare organizations to plan for rapid recognition and response if person-to-person transmission of SARS coronavirus recurs.

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