Disease Review: SARS


Right now, the world is experiencing a health menace that is causing global disruption in all aspects of life including the largest global recession since The Great Recession. The coronavirus disease of 2019 or commonly known as COVID-19 is an ongoing pandemic caused by severe respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that is said to have started in Wuhan, China. As of the moment, there are more than 6.2 million cases with more than 380,000 deaths.

But more than two decades ago, an almost similar coronavirus disease shocked the world. In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus caused a global outbreak which affected 26 countries. Learning about SARS which is also caused by coronavirus can help us understand more about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

SARS Timeline

On November 16, 2002, the first case of SARS was recorded in Guangdong, China. Doctors had never seen the viral disease before. They thought that the cases that they were seeing are just atypical pneumonia, a mild form of pneumonia, which can easily be treated. The source of the virus and where the patients got infected was unknown.

The doctors in China began to realize that there is something new about the disease but kept the information to themselves.

From China, SARS reached Hong Kong in February 2003. An unknowing SARS carrier who is a medical professor from Guangdong checked into Room 911 at Hong Kong’s Metropole Hotel. While staying at the hotel the professor unwittingly infected several guests that brought SARS to different

places such as Singapore, Toronto, and Hanoi. The professor, who is a super spreader or people who can easily infect a lot of people, then became sick and went to the hospital. He died within two weeks.

On February 26, 2003, the first case of unusual pneumonia was reported in Hanoi, Vietnam. The World Health Organization (WHO) examined the patients and reported an unusual outbreak of the new illness which they called sudden acute respiratory syndrome or SARS. The disease has infected several health workers at the hospital.

An outbreak of a similar respiratory illness was also happening in health workers in Hong Kong.

On March 12, 2003, the WHO issued a global alert for an infectious severe form of pneumonia in persons from China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Three days after, they issued a heightened global health alert about the new disease after Singapore and Canada reported the same pneumonia cases. The disease was named severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

On March 24, 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented the first evidence suggesting that the cause of SARS is a new strain of a coronavirus which is the common cause of respiratory infection and the common cold. On April 16, 2003, they confirmed that the cause of SARS is a new coronavirus strain, calling it SARS coronavirus or SARS-CoV.

Doctors and scientists were able to eliminate SARS by isolating patients or infected people until the virus passed out of their system and is no longer transmittable.

In December 2003, WHO said that more than 8,000 SARS cases globally were reported with 774 deaths. There has been no reported SARS case anywhere in the world since 2004. International cooperation on bans, isolation, and quarantine helped defeat the outbreak.

The Cause and Its Transmission

The severe acute respiratory syndrome is caused by SARS-CoV viruses. These are enveloped single-stranded RNA coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are the usual cause of common colds. Previously, this coronavirus had never been dangerous to humans.

SARS disease is of zoonotic origin. The infectious agents are carried by animals and then transmitted to humans. Horseshoe bats were thought to be the natural reservoir then animal to animal transmission happened that changed the virus. The civet cats are likely the source of introduction to humans. The SARS-CoV RNA sequence found on civet cats is 99% identical to that found on infected humans.

The transmission of SARS-CoV is mainly from close person to person contact. Like other respiratory illnesses, SARS spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. The droplets can be propelled and deposited in the eyes, mouth, and nose of a nearby person. The virus can also spread when a person handles or touches a surface or object with infectious droplets and then touches his or her face. Transmission appears to occur mainly during the second week of illness.

People at greatest risk of SARS are those who have direct or close contact with infected persons such as family members and health workers. Most cases of transmission occurred in the health care setting.


SARS usually begins with a high fever. Patients might also experience one or more influenza-like symptoms. Symptoms are headaches, body aches, discomfort, and diarrhea, and malaise. After 2 to 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough.

Many SARS patients develop pneumonia that can lead to severe breathing problems. Common fatal cases of SARS patients are due to respiratory failure. Heart and liver failure are other possible fatal complications.

Dealing with SARS

There is no specific treatment available for SARS. Antivirals can be used for some cases but aren’t effective for everyone. As of now, only supportive treatment is possible. Research for SARS vaccines is still ongoing.

What we had encountered in the SARS outbreak in 2003 is nothing compared to what we are experiencing in the COVID-19 pandemic. The cases and deaths we have in this pandemic overshadow that of the SARS.

We can just apply the things they did in 2003 to prevent further damage. They imposed travel restrictions and educational campaigns were blasted all throughout. These helped in preventing transmission in other countries and people within the infected countries.

Personally, we should always wash our hands with soap and water. Wearing proper protective equipment such as face masks or gloves when outside or tending to patients. We should always disinfect surfaces. And like in any other respiratory illness, it is best if we strengthen our lungs, boost our immune system, and avoid overworking to avoid burnout — which could leave us more vulnerable to diseases. These simple things will help us prevent getting infected.


Leave a reply