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Q&A: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Many people in SARS affected areas have taken to wearing surgical masks as protection.
Many people in SARS affected areas have taken to wearing surgical masks as protection.

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• Frequently Asked Questions: SARS 
• Country breakdown: Suspect and probable cases of SARS 
• Special report: SARS: Mystery illness on the move 
• China and SARS external link


Suspect case: A person who develops high fever (greater than 38 C / 100.4 F) and respiratory symptoms such as cough, breathing difficulty or shortness of breath, within 10 days of

1) having had close contact with a person who is a suspect or probable case of SARS.
2) having traveled to or resided in an affected area.

Probable case:  A suspect case with chest X-ray findings of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome.

What should be done to prevent the further spread of SARS?

More travel bans
More quarantine
More medical checks
Enough being done

• What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are high fever (greater than 38 C or 100.4 F), combined with a dry cough, shortness of breath, or breathing difficulties. Chest X-ray indicates changes compatible with pneumonia.

Other possible symptoms include headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhea.

• How contagious is SARS?

SARS appears to be less infectious than influenza. Experts believe it spreads through close contact with an infected person, such as between family members or between patient and doctor.

However, it is still unknown what sort of virus or bacteria causes the illness. Scientists are focusing on the coronavirus family, which causes common colds, although other possibilities are also being explored.

The incubation period -- i.e. the length of time between exposure and symptoms emerging -- is estimated to range from two to seven days.

• How is it treated?

The best treatment is still unclear. Standard antiviral drugs and antibiotics do not appear to be effective although some patients in Hong Kong have shown favorable response to a cocktail of drugs including the antiviral drug ribavirin and steroids.

• What can be done to prevent SARS?

The illness can be severe but apart from the close contact with an infected patient is not thought to be highly contagious when simple protective precautions are taken.

Health experts say it is important to maintain good personal hygiene and good ventilation in home and working environments. Washing hands with liquid soap and using disposable towels is recommended.

Keeping windows open and putting on facemasks can also help prevent transmission of the infection.

• Is it safe to travel?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised travellers heading for Hong Kong and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong to postpone non-essential travel to those areas because of the outbreak. Check their Web Site for latest alerts and advisories.

U.S. and Canadian health officials also say travelers should consider postponing non-essential trips to areas at risk such as Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong or Guangdong province in southern China; and Singapore.

WHO recommends those who have symptoms related to SARS and have a recent history of travel to the affected areas seek immediate medical attention and inform health care staff of recent travel.

• How many cases have been reported worldwide?

More than 4,000 cases of SARS have been reported so far. To see the breakdown of latest number of cases and deaths by country, click here.

(Sources: World Health Organization; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Health Canada; Hong Kong Department of Health)

Editor's note: The above information should be used for guidance only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice.

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