Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome



SARS is caused by a specific group of viruses. The viruses are spread from droplets in the air that happen when a sick person sneezes or coughs. Viruses can also be picked up from objects that an sick person has touched.

Risk Factors

Factors that may raise the risk of SARS are:

  • Having a gene variation that makes people more likely to get SARS—more common in people in Southeast Asia
  • Recent travel to locations in Asia where SARS outbreaks have been reported
  • Close contact with someone who has SARS
  • Being a healthcare worker who cares for patients with SARS



SARS requires care from your doctor. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor right away.

SARS may cause:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Body aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Stiff muscles
  • Lack of hunger
  • Confusion
  • Rash


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

These tests may be done to look for signs of infection:

  • Blood tests
  • Blood culture
  • Sputum culture
  • Stool (poop) tests

The oxygen level in the blood may be measured. This can be done with pulse oximetry.

Pictures of the body may be taken. This can be done with a chest x-ray .



There are currently no medicines to treat or cure SARS. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics and current antiviral drugs have not had any effect.

The course and severity of the infection may be shortened with:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Medicines that suppress or enhance the immune system

The symptoms of SARS will be treated with oxygen therapy if needed. People who are having problems breathing may be given oxygen through a tube or mask. More severe problems may require a machine to help with breathing.


To lower the risk of SARS:

  • Practice proper hand washing.
  • Do not share utensils, glasses, towels, or linen with anyone who has SARS.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.