Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a serious form of viral pneumonia caused by the SARS coronavirus. The SARS coronavirus is also known as SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1.

The virus was first identified in 2003. Around that time, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated SARS a global health threat. In 2003, 774 people worldwide died in a SARS epidemic before the virus was successfully contained.

No new cases of SARS have been reported since 2004.

SARS symptoms are similar to those of the flu and may include:

Symptoms will appear 2 to 10 days after a person is exposed to the virus, according to the WHO. Respiratory symptoms usually appear after 3 to 7 days.

SARS-CoV-1 can be transmitted when a person with the virus sneezes, coughs, or has face-to-face contact with another person. Face-to-face contact includes:

  • caring for someone
  • kissing, hugging, or touching
  • having contact with another person’s bodily fluids
  • sharing eating or drinking utensils

You can also get the virus by touching a surface containing the respiratory droplets of a person with SARS-CoV-1, and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Factors that increase your risk of getting the SARS virus include close contact with someone who has SARS and a history of travel to any country with a reported SARS outbreak.

SARS and COVID-19 are different respiratory conditions, but they’re both caused by coronaviruses. The term “coronaviruses” stems from the fact that these viruses resemble a crown. The word “corona” is Latin for crown.

The virus that causes SARS is called SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1, while the virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2.

There are multiple similarities between these viruses. For example, both viruses:

  • likely originated in animals before being identified in humans
  • are transmitted from human to human via respiratory droplets
  • can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, cough, and headache

People who developed SARS typically had a worse outlook and a higher risk of death than people who develop COVID-19. However, SARS-CoV-2 spreads more rapidly than SARS-CoV-1.

Learn more about how SARS and COVID-19 compare.

Various laboratory tests are able to detect the SARS virus.

During the first SARS outbreak, there were no laboratory tests for the condition. A diagnosis was made primarily based on a person’s symptoms and medical history.

Now, healthcare professionals can perform tests using nasal swabs, throat swabs, or blood samples.

An X-ray or CT scan of the chest may also reveal signs of pneumonia, which is a characteristic of SARS.

Most of the fatalities associated with SARS resulted from respiratory failure. SARS can also lead to heart or liver failure.

People with chronic conditions and older adults are at the highest risk for complications. According to a 2003 study on SARS, people who were at least 60 years old had significantly worse outcomes than people under 60 years old.

There’s no established treatment specifically for SARS. However, some COVID-19 treatments, such as nirmatrelvir/ritonavir (Paxlovid) and molnupiravir, would likely be effective against SARS.

Antiviral medications and steroids are sometimes taken to reduce swelling of the lungs, but they’re not effective for everyone.

Supplemental oxygen or a ventilator may be prescribed if necessary.

In severe cases, blood plasma from someone who has already recovered from SARS may also be administered.

Despite the efforts of researchers, an effective SARS-CoV-1 vaccine does not exist.

Because there’s no confirmed treatment or cure either, it’s important to take as many preventive measures as possible.

Here are some of the best ways to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-1 if you’re in close contact with someone who has SARS:

  • washing your hands frequently
  • wearing disposable gloves if touching any bodily fluids of a person with SARS
  • wearing a surgical mask when in the same room with a person who has SARS
  • disinfecting surfaces that may contain the virus
  • washing all personal items, including bedding and utensils, used by a person with SARS

Keep children home from school if they develop a fever or any breathing problems after coming in contact with someone with SARS.

If you have SARS symptoms

Health officials recommend quarantine for anyone with SARS symptoms as well as all members of their household. To prevent transmission of the virus, quarantine should last for 10 days.