Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

  • Medical Author:

    Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP is a U.S. board-certified Infectious Disease subspecialist. Dr. Gompf received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Miami, and a Medical Degree from the University of South Florida. Dr. Gompf completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida followed by subspecialty fellowship training there in Infectious Diseases under the directorship of Dr. John T. Sinnott, IV.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

What is the treatment for SARS?

Patients with SARS often require oxygen therapy, and severe cases require tracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation to support life until recovery begins. Severely ill patients should be admitted to the intensive-care unit. No medication has been proven to treat SARS effectively, and treatment is supportive and directed by the patient's clinical condition. Medical caregivers need to follow strict policies on gloves, masks, gowns, and other protocols to avoid becoming infected.

What is the prognosis of SARS?

During the pandemic, approximately 25% of people with SARS developed severe respiratory failure or ARDS. In the general population, people with SARS had approximately a 10% chance of dying. Deaths in children were rare. However, up to 50% of people with underlying medical conditions died. People over 50 years old also had a similar death rate. Unfortunately, many people who eventually recovered from SARS in China suffered disabling lung scarring (pulmonary fibrosis), thinning of bones (osteoporosis), and severe damage to the hip bone (femoral head necrosis).

Is it possible to prevent SARS?

Travelers to affected areas can protect themselves by taking simple measures that help prevent the spread of germs. Frequent hand washing with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding close contact with sick people, and not touching one's eyes, nose, and mouth can prevent the spread of viruses.

The SARS pandemic was brought to an end by basic public-health and infection-control measures. In the health-care setting, someone with a suspected case of SARS is placed in an airborne infection isolation room (AIIR). This is a patient care room used to isolate people with suspected or confirmed airborne infectious diseases. The air is under negative pressure, meaning that contaminated air is continually sucked into the room instead of letting it leak out into the hospital environment. This air is exhausted outside, or it circulates back into the room after passing through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to decontaminate it. If an AIIR not available, the patient must wear a face mask and is isolated in a single-patient room with the door closed. The number of staff assigned and the patient's movements outside of the room must be minimized. Before entering the isolation room, health-care workers caring for the patient must wear a gown, gloves, eye shield, and mask or a portable air purifier that filters out small infectious particles (N95 mask). Before leaving the room, any disposable gear such as gowns, gloves, and mask must be discarded. Hands must be cleansed with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after leaving the room and before attending to another patient.

Most public-health officials recommend isolation for anyone diagnosed with SARS-CoV.

The key to preventing another outbreak is to identify the first infected patients promptly before they have time to spread the illness more widely. People who have been exposed to an infected individual should be carefully monitored for fever or respiratory symptoms. Exposure is defined as living with or caring for an infected person, being within 3 feet of the sick person, exposure to bodily fluids, or direct physical contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not mandate quarantine measures for exposed individuals who are otherwise healthy and allows this decision to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Local public-health authorities should be consulted promptly when the diagnosis is suspected. If a significant outbreak of SARS occurs again, people may be advised to maintain a distance from others in the community ("social distancing") by avoiding large gatherings or close contact with others. However, isolation and quarantine methods have been effective in the prevention of SARS spread.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/22/2016

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