SARS

SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome, communicable viral disease that can progress to a potentially fatal pneumonia. The first symptoms of SARS are usually a high fever, headache and body aches, sore throat, and mild respiratory symptoms; diarrhea may occur. A dry cough and shortness of breath typically develop two to seven days after the first symptoms, and in most persons pneumonia develops in a lobe of the lungs. In 10%–20% of all patients, the pneumonia spreads to other lobes, and death occurs in about 9% of all cases. The death rate is higher among older persons. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus that causes the disease.

SARS is caused by a coronavirus, one of a group of viruses that are responsible for about one third of all cases of the common cold. The variety that causes SARS had not been previously identified, and may have been transmitted to humans from civets or bats; some studies have suggested that bats were the ultimate source of the virus and civets were intermediate hosts. Infection with SARS mainly occurs when a person in close contact with someone who has the disease is exposed to exhaled droplets. The spread of the disease has been controlled by isolating infected patients and quarantining those exposed to them.

The disease apparently first occurred in Nov., 2002, in Foshan, Guangdong prov., China, but provincial authorities withheld information about it, and when it spread to Beijing local authorities there acted similarly. In Feb., 2003, the World Health Organization first noted reports of cases of atypical pneumonia from China, but Chinese officials did not begin cooperating fully with international experts until April. SARS subsequently spread to some 30 countries on five continents, and affected the economies of China, Hong Kong, and Toronto, where cases were the highest; Taiwan and Singapore were also hard hit. No new cases have been reported since 2004. The rapid international spread of the 2002–3 outbreak was facilitated by air travel and the lack of prompt, early information about SARS from Chinese officials.

See study by T. Abraham (2004).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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