In early 2003, a new infectious respiratory (lung)
disease was described in Asia. It soon spread to other areas of the world,
including North America. This new disease is called severe
acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS is
highly contagious and is spread from person to person.
SARS is a viral illness, as are the common cold and influenza (flu). The type of virus that causes SARS is a coronavirus. Recent scientific studies have shown that some Asian animals
carry viruses similar to the virus that causes SARS. These animals may have
been the origin of the SARS virus that affects humans. The December 24/31,
2003, issue of JAMA includes several articles about
Shortness of breath
Malaise (vague sense of feeling ill)
These symptoms also occur in other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza,
that are much more common than SARS. The feeling of shortness of breath often
does not begin until 3 to 7 days after the start of fever and the other symptoms.
However, this symptom in some individuals may progress quickly to extreme
shortness of breath and respiratory failure. This may require treatment with
oxygen or a ventilator (breathing machine). Elderly
persons or those with underlying illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease
are more likely to develop respiratory failure due to SARS, and they are more
likely to die from SARS if they become ill with the virus.
Unlike influenza or some other viral illnesses, there currently are
no vaccinations or immunizations to prevent SARS. Doctors and scientists must
rely on rapid diagnosis of SARS to prevent it from spreading and infecting
other persons. Worldwide travel advisories, alerts, and other communications
helped to identify individuals at risk of developing SARS because of exposure
to ill persons, either during travel to SARS-affected areas or at home. Quarantines
were imposed as a public health measure to stop the spread of SARS. The SARS
epidemic of 2003 has ended. It is unclear whether SARS will return in the
Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Use a disposable tissue instead of your hands to cover your mouth
when you cough, and throw it away immediately after use.
Follow public health recommendations if you are in the area of
It is important to reduce your risk of contracting influenza, a serious
disease with the same early symptoms as SARS, especially during the flu season
(late fall and winter). Talk to your doctor about a vaccination (flu shot
or nasal spray) to prevent influenza.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention888/246-2675http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseaseshttp://www.niaid.nih.gov
American Lung Association800/586-4872http://www.lungusa.org
World Health Organizationhttp://www.who.int
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on colds
was published in the May 28, 2003, issue.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization,
American Lung Association, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
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TOPIC: INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). JAMA. 2003;290(24):3318. doi:10.1001/jama.290.24.3172