SARS Watch

Severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS is a life-threatening respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV. The illness began to spread from Asia, in China and reached 30 countries on 5 continents from late 2003 until July 2003. More than 8000 people were infected with the virus and a total of over 800 died due to the nonexistence of a treatment.

Being a viral disease SARS spreads quickly. A person can become infected by coming into contact with a carrier of the virus, a utensil or surface that an infected person has used or been around. When a person with SARS coughs or sneezes, the virus is released into the air in the form of mucus droplets. If these droplets come into contact with another person's mouth, nose, eyes, saliva or an open wound, then infection can pass from one person to another.

Symptoms of the disease are not all accounted for and SARS may not manifest in the same way in different hosts. SARS is a respiratory illness that tends to manifest somewhat like a simple flu. The most common symptom that was found in all infected cases was a high temperature above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Other than fever, symptoms include headaches, a sore throat, dry cough, muscle pain, fatigue and gastrointestinal problems. Later on the patient could experience shortness of breath and the condition could develop into pneumonia.

A person can be suspected of having SARS if he or she is displaying a high fever and has recently been in contact with a person diagnosed with the disease or by traveling to a country with SARS. In order to prevent infection and another worldwide outbreak, quarantine is advised for any who show serious symptoms resembling SARS.

For personal prevention, one must take care of personal hygiene. Washing hands frequently and thoroughly, avoiding sharing eating utensils, personal hygiene products or towels with others and using a disinfectant when cleaning the house and doing so thoroughly, without leaving out doorknobs, countertops or other surfaces that humans come in contact with frequently.

If displaying a high fever, limiting outdoor access and personal contact with others is advisable. Avoiding public places, wearing disposable gloves, surgical masks and covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing helps protect oneself and others as well. Seeking medical help is essential to determine a prompt and proper treatment, even if it is or it isn't SARS.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome is believed to have been completely contained when the 2003 outbreak ended and the last person treated. There is a possibility however that the virus still exists in animal hosts which could lead to another outbreak in the future. Currently there is no definitive cure for SARS but scientists are working on the issue to have a treatment or vaccine ready in case of future infections in the human population.