What is Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)?
SARS is a respiratory illness that has recently been reported
worldwide. The countries that have
been most severely affected are in Southeast Asia, specifically
the People’s Republic of China
(including Hong Kong), Hanoi, Vietnam and Singapore.
For additional information, check the World Health Organization’s
(WHO) website at
or visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s
(CDC) website at
When was SARS first recognized?
SARS was first reported among people in the Guandong Province
of China, Hong Kong and
Vietnam in March 2003. It has since spread to other countries.
What are the signs and symptoms of SARS?
People are suspected of having SARS if they have traveled to
an affected area in Southeast Asia within ten days of symptom onset
or had close contact with a SARS patient within ten days of symptom
The following are the usual symptoms:
- Fever greater than 100.4ºF
- One or more respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness
of breath, difficulty
breathing, hypoxia (low oxygen level), or a chest x-ray showing
findings of pneumonia.
The illness usually starts with a fever and is sometimes
associated with chills, headache, fatigue,
body aches and an overall feeling of discomfort. After 3 to 7 days,
the person may develop a dry
cough and have trouble breathing.
What causes SARS?
SARS is a newly recognized disease. There is early evidence
to suggest that SARS is caused by a virus, but the exact cause is
still unknown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
identified a new virus, a previously unknown type of coronavirus
in some patients with SARS.
More studies are being done to determine if this or other
viruses cause SARS.
What are coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a crown-like
(corona) appearance under a
microscope. This family of viruses is a common cause of mild to
moderate respiratory illness in
humans. These viruses can survive in the environment for
as long as 3 hours.
How is SARS spread?
SARS is a new disease, we do not yet know for sure exactly how it
is spread but it seems to require close contact with a SARS patient.
Scientists believe that SARS is usually spread when someone with
SARS coughs or sneezes droplets into the air and someone else breathes
them in. This more often occurs when people are in close contact,
like people who live in the same home as a SARS patient or a healthcare
worker who is takes care of a SARS patient. SARS may also be spread
by touching something that has been contaminated with the secretions
(from the nose or mouth) from a SARS patient. People with SARS should
wear a mask if they are coughing and sneezing, wash their hands
frequently and avoid sharing eating utensils (forks, spoons, glasses),
towels and bedding with other people in the household. These items
can be used by others after routine cleaning with soap and water.
Patients with SARS should NOT share cigarettes or canned drinks.
Who is most at risk of getting sick with SARS?
SARS appears to spread most easily among close personal contacts
– such as those who have
cared for, lived with, or had direct contact with an infected person.
Persons most at risk are those
who live in the same home as a SARS patient or health care workers
who do not use infection
control procedures when providing medical care to a SARS patient.
Those who have had only
casual contact with an individual with SARS do not appear to be
at risk of infection.
In the United States, almost all SARS patients have recently traveled
to countries, such as Hong
Kong and China, where large outbreaks of SARS are occurring. There
has been no evidence to
date of community spread in the United States.
How long does it take to get sick after being exposed to
someone with SARS?
The incubation period (the period between when someone is first
exposed to a SARS patent until
he/she gets sick) is usually 2 to7 days but can be as long as 10
days. The illness usually begins
with a fever greater than 100.4ºF.
How long is a person with SARS infectious (able to spread the disease
Evidence suggests that people are most likely to be infectious when
they have symptoms, such
as fever and cough. It is not yet known how long after symptoms
begin that people with SARS
might be able to spread the disease to others.
Is SARS dangerous?
Most people who have gotten SARS have recovered, but a small percentage
(less than 5 per
cent) of people have died. The disease may be more serious among
older persons or those with
other medical problems.
Are there any suspect cases of SARS in New Jersey?
To date, there have been several New Jersey residents who are suspected
to have SARS based
on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s disease
criteria for SARS.
All of the cases had onset of symptoms during travel or shortly
after return from Asia, a continent
with known community outbreaks of SARS.
Because the initial symptoms of SARS are similar to the symptoms
of many common illnesses
seen this time of year (such as colds and flu), and because many
New Jersey residents travel to
Southeast Asia, the number of suspect cases may increase. Many of
these persons, however,
will likely have unrelated illnesses.
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has
been monitoring cases
and their household contacts until 10 days after the SARS patient
has recovered. There has been
no evidence to date of spread to health care workers or household
members, nor evidence of
community spread of SARS in New Jersey.
What should I do, if I or someone in my family has recently traveled
in Southeast Asia?
You should monitor your own health for ten days following your return.
If you become ill with a
high fever (> 100.4 ºF) and a cough or difficulty breathing,
you should notify your doctor or visit a
hospital emergency department and be sure to tell your doctor that
you have have recently
traveled in Southeast Asia. If you are not sick, it is not necessary
to stay at home or limit your
activities in any way. It is okay to go to work or school, or for
young children to go to daycare or
other child care programs. You do not need to use a mask or see
a doctor as long as you are
Is it safe to travel to Southeast Asia?
At this time, there are no travel restrictions in place directly
related to SARS. However, a travel
advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends
planning nonessential or elective travel to the People's Republic
of China, Hong Kong, Hanoi,
Vietnam or Singapore may wish to postpone their trip until further
notice. This temporary
recommendation will be re-evaluated daily as this outbreak evolves.
The recommendation does
not apply to passengers simply passing through the airports in these
areas, if they are not
spending any time in the affected countries.
Persons who travel to Southeast Asia should be aware of the symptoms
of SARS. If they develop
high fever and cough or difficulty breathing, they should see a
doctor immediately and be sure to
mention their recent travel to Southeast Asia. There is no recommendation
at this time to wear
masks while traveling. Updates on SARS, recommendations, and travel
advisories can be found
on the World Health Organization website at http://www.who.int/en/
and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s website at www.cdc.gov.
How can I help prevent SARS?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines
for how to prevent SARS
from spreading to family contacts of SARS patients and in the hospital
setting. In medical care
settings, it is important that health care providers follow special
precautions when caring for a
patient who may have SARS. For others, the best way to prevent SARS
is by not traveling to
places where there are known outbreaks of SARS, unless absolutely
If I am traveling to Southeast Asia, is there a medicine I can take
to prevent SARS?
No, there is no known medicine you can take to prevent SARS. However,
if you do become ill in
Southeast Asia, or after you get back, you should see a doctor and
mention that you have
recently traveled to that region.
What is being done to prevent SARS patients from coming into the
For people traveling by plane, federal quarantine inspectors stationed
at the airports are
screening travelers from Southeast Asia for symptoms of SARS. In
addition, health alert cards
are being distributed to air passengers asking travelers to monitor
their health for ten days and to
see a doctor if they become sick with a fever and cough or difficulty
breathing. These health alert
cards are also being provided by the major shipping associations
to people traveling on cargo
ships and cruise ships into ports in the United States. Inspectors
are also boarding ships if a
passenger or crew member is suspected of having SARS.
What if I have been on board an airplane or ship with someone who
is suspected of having
All passengers and crew members will be advised by port authorities
to seek medical attention if
they develop symptoms of SARS (see above).
Is there a treatment for SARS?
Because the exact cause of the illness is still being investigated,
there is currently no known
treatment for SARS. Different types of treatment regimens have been
used for severely ill
hospitalized patients with SARS, including antibiotics, anti-virus
medications and steroids, but it is
too soon to tell if any of these will be effective. Supportive treatment,
such as intravenous fluids
and medicines to control fever or pain, is critical.
Is there any reason to believe that SARS is linked to bioterrorism?
The pattern of spread as far as is known is what would typically
be expected in a contagious
respiratory or flu-like illness. People most at risk are either
health care workers taking care of sick
people or family members or household contacts of people infected
with SARS. There is no
evidence to suggest bioterrorism.
What is being done about SARS overseas?
The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention are
aggressively responding to cases of SARS and working to identify
a cause of the illness.
What is being done about SARS in New Jersey?
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is working
closely with hospitals and
public health agencies to increase their awareness of SARS and to
help them rapidly identify any
cases that arrive in New Jersey. The DHSS has held weekly teleconferences
with New Jersey
hospitals and public health agencies to provide updates, explain
how to identify potential cases
and to detail appropriate reporting mechanisms. Health officials
in New Jersey have been
instructed to immediately report any suspected cases by telephone
to both DHSS and local
Why has the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
asked hospitals to be
on the alert for SARS?
Identifying possible cases early will allow special precautions
to be taken in the hospital to
prevent its spread. In addition, the Department will assist hospitals
in sending laboratory
specimens to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help
identify the cause of the
Who can I call if I have questions or concerns?
The public can visit the Department of Health and Senior Services
web site at
or call the Department at 609-588-7500.
For additional information, see the World Health Organization’s
website at http://www.who.int/en/
or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website