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SARS – an acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – is a respiratory disease that results from infection by SARS-CoV-1,  a member of the family of viruses known as coronaviruses. Before the appearance of SARS in 2003, the best known member of this group was the common cold, and coronaviruses as a group were viewed as non threatening to human health. However, they do pose a risk to animal health. For this reason, some scientists believe that SARS is a coronavirus that crossed from animals to humans. It mutated in the process into a form that presents a threat to human health.

As with the common cold, a common route of SARS infection is when someone with the virus sneezes or coughs (or even just speaks). The resulting droplets in the air can spread the virus to another person. In practice, SARS is usually spread through close personal contact with another person e.g. through caring for that person. The virus can also spread through touching objects such as doorknobs that have been infected by someone with the virus.


SARS infection can lead to pneumonia and other breathing difficulties. In some cases, it can reach the point at which the patient can require a mechanical respirator to breathe. In some cases, the virus can lead to death due to heart or liver failure. Individuals over 60 are generally most at risk from the disease.


To avoid catching the disease if you are in contact with an individual with a SARS infection, you should at least follow the guidelines below:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water. Alternatively, use an alcohol based hand run with an alcohol concentration of 60% or more;
  • Wear disposable gloves while caring for the patient, and dispose of them after use;
  • When in the same room as the SARS patient, wear a surgical mask or N95 respirator to cover your mouth and nose;
  • Wash the clothes and bedding of the SARS patient and thoroughly disinfect any surfaces that person has touched.

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