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  • SARS is a sometimes-fatal respiratory illness that is spread primarily through close contact with a symptomatic person.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a sometimes fatal, respiratory illness. The first identified cases occurred in China in late 2002, and the disease has now spread throughout the world. SARS is caused by a coronavirus known as SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Suspected SARS cases in the United States have involved individuals returning from travel to Asia and health-care workers and other contacts of those patients. SARS does not appear to be caused by casual contact; transmission appears to be primarily through close contact with a symptomatic patient. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined a suspect case of SARS as an illness of unknown cause that began in February 2003 or later and meets the following criteria:

  • Fever of at least 100.5 degrees F;
  • One or more clinical findings of respiratory illness, such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, hypoxia, or X-ray evidence of either pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome; and
  • The onset of symptoms occurs within 10 days of either (1) travel to an area with documented or suspected community transmission of SARS; or (2) close contact with either a person with a respiratory illness who traveled to a SARS area or a known suspect SARS case. Close contact means having cared for, lived with, or had direct contact with respiratory secretions and/or body fluids.