Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is an infection of the respiratory system that can be fatal in some cases. Learn to spot the signs and symptoms of SARS and ways to prevent the spread of the disease.

According to a World Health Organisation report, there were 8,096 known infected cases and 774 deaths worldwide from SARS between November 2002 and July 2003. Death from SARS is primarily due to viral pneumonia.

SARS is an atypical form of pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. This viral infection and deadly disease caused a global outbreak in 2003 which spread rapidly and severely tested communicable disease control practices in many countries. In Singapore, there were 238 cases and 33 deaths from the SARS outbreak.

SARS Virus Causes and Risk Factors

SARS is caused by the SARS coronavirus, which is believed to have mutated from a virus found in small mammals.

Coronaviruses are named after their crown-like (corona) appearance under a microscope. These viruses are commonly associated with upper respiratory illness in humans. Such viruses can survive for as long as three hours in the environment.

SARS may spread through close contact with an infected person. The virus appears to be spread via droplet transmission when coughing or sneezing. Transmission may also be possible through objects contaminated with the infected virus.

SARS Signs and Symptoms

SARS signs and symptoms may include the following:
High fever with chills
Body aches
Dry cough
Muscle pains
Sore throat
Tiredness or malaise
Breathing difficulty

What Is a Suspect Case?

This refers to a person with a history of:
High fever (more than 38 degrees Celsius) AND
Cough or breathing difficulty
AND one or more of the following exposures during the 10 days prior to the onset of the above symptoms:
Close contact with a person who is a suspect or probable case of SARS
History of travel, to an area with recent local transmission of SARS

SARS Complications

Like any other atypical pneumonia, SARS is a serious infection that can lead to death in some cases.

Screening and Diagnosis

There are several laboratory tests using blood, stool and respiratory secretions to detect the SARS virus. Isolating the virus via culture methods has also been used in SARS diagnosis. 

Seek medical advice immediately if you or your loved ones persistently show any of the SARS signs and symptoms mentioned above. 


There is no cure for or antidote against the SARS virus. Therapies that have been tried include antiviral agents such as oseltamivir, ribavirin and steroids. The best way of managing SARS is to prevent its spread.

SARS Prevention

The SARS virus typically spreads through direct contact with infectious patients or secretions. In general, it is important to practise good personal hygiene. Here are some tips to help prevent the spread of the virus:

Cover Your Nose/Mouth When Coughing or Sneezing

o With a tissue or handkerchief when you cough or sneeze
o Wear a face mask when unwell and visiting your doctor

Wash Your Hands

o Regularly and thoroughly with soap and water
o Before and after preparing food
o After going to the toilet
o Before and after eating
o After blowing your nose
o After using your hand when coughing or sneezing

Build Up Your Immunity

o Quit smoking, which harms you and your family
o Eat lots of fruits and veggies for healthy nutrients that your body needs to defend itself
o Drink the equivalent of eight glasses of fluid daily
o Engage in 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days a week
o Learn to relax and rest

Keep Your Environment Clean

o Do not throw leftover food on the floor or in the open
o Do not leave food in common areas for stray animals
o Do not spit on the floor and common areas
o Throw used masks, tissue or litter into rubbish bins

Contain the Spread of SARS

o Use a serving spoon when sharing food from a common dish
o Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes and towels
o If you are unwell, see your doctor immediately

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

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