SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome


What is SARS?

Travellers going to areas where SARS is potentially endemic should be aware of the symptoms of SARS. SARS causes an atypical pneumonia – this includes a high fever (>38’C), one or more respiratory symptoms such as a cough, or breathing difficulties developing 2-10 days after exposure (although some reports suggest this can be up to 16 days)


Either, has close contact (i.e. caring for those with the illness, living with a person with the illness or sharing respiratory secretions or body fluids) with a person who has had SARS; or has recently travelled (within 10 days) to an area reporting cases of SARS. Other symptoms can include headache, muscle stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhoea.

If a person experiences these symptoms and has been in the above circumstances they should seek medical attention – highlighting their recent travel, a face mask should be used to prevent spread at this time. No person experiencing these symptoms should travel until they are fully recovered.

What have the Experts Discovered?

Experts now know that the virus is a coronovirus. A coronovirus is usually responsible for the common cold causing respiratory epidemics. The virus is able to survive for 1-2 days at room temperature. It can also survive for up to 4 days in human faeces. The virus is currently believed to no longer be effective when it comes up against normal disinfectants.

Experts believe that while it is possible that this disease is spread through the air, that is when an infected person with a fever coughs and sneezes, it is now believed to be rare – it should be remembered that we HAVE NOT seen large numbers infected on flights.

Experts believe that the virus is able to survive on frequently touched surfaces such as utensils and railings. Normal washing and cleaning are usually enough to avoid spread of the virus through this way.

If you have to Travel…

If you have essential travel to this area, the following precautions are advised:

  • Ensure frequent hand washing and personal hygiene is adhered to – carry with you antibacterial wipes for emergencies – especially when using public bathrooms.
  • In order to avoid infection, if you are forced to travel in close contact (within one metre) with a person with suspected symptoms, use a face mask or handkerchief over your mouth and nose.
  • Maintain good communication with those back at home using e-mail and telephone and keep up to date with travel advisories from an up to date source – these should be checked prior to travel.
  • If at any time you feel ill seek medical attention – make sure your travel insurance is adequate prior to travel. To prevent spread of the disease use a face mask in crowded areas and on public transport. If you need medical attention PLEASE alert medical staff if you have travelled to a SARS infected area within the last 10 days.
  • Avoid crowded places such as sports events and conferences as well as travel on public transport – if this is essential make use of a face mask and be aware of personal hygiene and washing of hands.
  • It should also be remembered that anyone trying to take a flight in an infected country who is suffering from a respiratory problem could be refused access to the flight – if you have an existing condition make sure you have a letter from your doctor!
  • Before travelling overseas to certain countries during the “flu” season it is advisable to discuss flu vaccination with your health advisor.


Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional.  Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.