SARS: What you need to know to protect your family

What is SARS?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness that has recently been reported in Asia, North America and Europe. In the U.S., cases of SARS have been reported primarily among people who traveled to affected areas. A small number of other people have gotten sick after being in close contact with a SARS patient. At this time, there is no evidence that SARS is spreading in the United States.

For additional information, check the World Health Organization's (WHO) SARS Website or visit other pages on the CDC's SARS Website. As of May 27, 66 "probable" cases of SARS have been reported in the United States. (See list of SARS cases in the U.S. that is updated each weekday.)

What are the symptoms of SARS?
The incubation period for SARS is typically two to seven days; however, isolated reports have suggested an incubation period as long as 10 days.

The illness usually begins with a fever (measured temperature greater than 100.4 degrees F or 38.0 degrees C). The fever is sometimes associated with chills or other symptoms, including headache, general feeling of discomfort and body aches. Some people also experience mild respiratory symptoms at the outset.

After two to seven days, SARS patients may develop a dry, nonproductive cough and have trouble breathing. In 10 percent to 20 percent of cases, patients will require mechanical ventilation.

How does SARS spread?
The primary way that SARS appears to spread is through close person-to-person contact. Most cases of SARS have involved people who cared for or lived with someone with SARS, or had direct contact with infectious material (for example, respiratory secretions) from a person who has SARS. Potential ways in which SARS can be spread include touching the skin of other people or objects that are contaminated with infectious droplets and then touching your eye(s), nose or mouth. This can happen when someone who is sick with SARS coughs or sneezes droplets onto themselves, other people or nearby surfaces. In general, viruses such as coronaviruses do not last a long time in the environment. It is uncertain how long the newly discovered coronavirus associated with SARS can survive in the environment. In one preliminary study, researchers in Hong Kong found that both dried and liquid samples of the new coronavirus survived as long as 24 hours in the environment. Additional studies are under way to examine this important question.It also is possible that SARS can be spread more broadly through the air or in other ways that are currently not known.

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