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Infectious Diseases – SARS

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Alternative names: severe acute respiratory syndrome

 

Type of infection: viral

 

Incubation period: 2 to 10 days, usually 2-7 on average

 

Mortality rate: 10%

 

Vector:  bodily fluid contact

 

History

SARS burst into public awareness with its discovery and first major outbreak in 2002. Originating in China, the highly contagious disease spread through Asia and eventually made its way to Europe and North America before dying out. By then, there had been more than 8,200 cases and 775 deaths from this brand new disease. Oddly enough, no other cases have been reported since.

Catching SARS

SARS is spread through the bodily fluids of an infected person, including fine water droplets from sneezing or coughing (which makes it very similar to an airborne virus in practice). The virus can survive on surfaces as well, so any such droplets can continue to be a threat after the person has left the room.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of SARS is much like the common flu, with high fever (over 100F), lethargy, coughing, and sore throat. As it worsens, there will be shortness of breath and further respiratory problems. Pneumonia can result if care is not taken to protect the patient from additional infection.

In some cases, a patient’s own immune system kicks into overdrive, overwhelming the body with a “cytokine storm”. This has further symptoms of high fever, nausea and fatigue. In itself, it can be severe enough to be fatal. Ironically, this has meant that people with the healthiest immune systems are actually the most likely to be seriously ill.

Treatment

There is no direct treatment for SARS other than treating the symptoms, and allowing rest for the infected person. Standard over-the-counter products can be used to ease body aches and to lower the fever. When breathing becomes difficult, a ventilator may be required.

Prevention

If you are around someone with SARS, avoid physical contact and wear a mask. They can still be contagious for up to 10 days after the symptoms have diminished, so you have to be diligent with isolation even after someone seems much better.

Antibiotics cannot directly help with SARS itself, but they can be helpful to prevent further development of pneumonia. Amoxycillin is the usual medication for pneumonia.

Risk Assessment

It’s tricky to establish what kind of threat SARS really is. It spread very quickly and infected so many people in 2003, but with only one single outbreak that we know of, we can’t really predict any sort of pattern or if it will even show up again.

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