SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

What is SARS?

SARS, or SARS-CoV as it was known, was the cause of a global pandemic which began in China in 2002.   The outbreak affected 26 countries.  During the outbreak there were more than 8000 cases globally with 774 deaths. The disease was caused by a coronavirus.  The coronavirus comes from the same family of viruses as the common cold and COVID-19.

The epidemic ended in July 2003 after killing 1 in 10 people who were infected, most those who died were over the age of 65.  Due to the close monitoring of the disease there are currently no known areas of the world with cases of SARS.

SARS caused flu-like illness.  Symptoms included a high fever (>38’C), one or more respiratory symptoms such as a cough, or breathing difficulties.  Symptoms developed around 2-16 days after exposure.

People at risk were those who had close contact  with a person who had SARS; or had recently travelled (within 10 days) to an area reporting cases of SARS. Other symptoms included headache, muscle stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhoea.

What is the risk of contracting SARS?

At the moment there are no known cases of SARS anywhere in the world.  Since the outbreak there have been several laboratory cases of SARS caused by laboratory accidents.

If SARS should re-emerge the following advice would remain in place:

  • Wash your hands frequently and make sure you have good personal hygiene
  • When travelling make sure you carry some antibacterial wipes for emergencies – especially when you are using public bathrooms
  • Maintain good communication with those back at home using e-mail and telephone
  • Keep up to date with travel advisories from an up to date source – you should check these prior to travel
  • If at any time you feel unwell seek medical attention – make sure your travel insurance is adequate prior to travel.
  • Avoid crowded places such as sports events and conferences as well as travel on public transport
  • You should also be remember that if you try to take a flight in an infected country and are suffering from a respiratory problem you 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.