SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

SARS (severe acute respiratory distress syndrome)

SARS is the abbreviation for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and means in German severe acute respiratory distress syndrome . It is an infectious disease caused by viruses. SARS first appeared in China in 2002.

What is SARS?

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is an infectious disease caused by a specific strain of virus called the coronavirus. The illness is subject to reporting. The pathogen was discovered by the doctor Dr. Discovered Carlo Urbani, who himself fell victim to the virus.

The disease triggers severe shortness of breath and causes flu-like symptoms with fever, cough, hoarseness and sore throat. The symptoms appear suddenly and are very severe right from the start.

SARS first appeared in China in 2002, and the first case in Germany was reported in 2003. At that time, almost 30 countries reported cases of the disease; however, the most common cases of SARS were in Thailand, China and Hong Kong.

A total of around 8,000 people were infected and fell ill, around 800 of whom died. There has not been another case of SARS since 2003.


The causes of SARS are viruses that were unknown until the outbreak of the disease in humans. This is the group of corona viruses. Until now, this virus was only known from animals. It is believed to have been transmitted to humans from a certain species of cat in China, whose meat is used there as food.

But the disease can also be passed on by living very closely with animals that are covertly infected. At first it was assumed that the infection among humans only takes place through the so-called droplet infection . The virus is transported via saliva, nasal secretions or other body fluids.

However, since people who had no direct contact but only lived in the same house also fell ill, it was concluded that the SARS virus can also spread through the air or water. The amazing thing is that the pathogen can apparently survive for a period of 24 hours without a host.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

According to the Infection Protection Act (IfSG) §6, paragraphs 5a and 5b, SARS must be reported in the event of suspected illness, outbreak of the disease or death due to SARS. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the suspicion of SARS is met when a fever of over 38°C is detectable, the disease shows signs of pneumonia ( pneumonia ), the following symptoms are meant: headache , body aches , dry cough , rarely chills ) and at least one respiratory symptom occurs, i.e. a disturbance of external respiration.

Previous close contact with SARS – infected (within 10 days before the onset of symptoms), as well as a stay in regions where SARS occurs frequently, also represents a suspicion of SARS. If these criteria are met and an X-ray image indicates an acute Pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome or an unexplained fatal respiratory disease is a likely case of SARS.

SARS symptoms appear after an incubation period of two to ten days. It then comes to fever , chills, headache, exhaustion, muscle pain (myalgia) and diarrhea . Older people show more severe courses, which, however, can also be fever-free. Symptoms also include fever, dry cough, hoarseness , sore throat, shortness of breath and low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia). The clinical picture worsens significantly (exercise) and can lead to lung failure.

Diagnosis & History

The incubation period of SARS is very short, only two to seven days. The incubation period is the period of time between the moment of infection and the appearance of the first symptoms. The disease usually begins with a sudden high fever and a very strong feeling of illness. This is followed by flu-like symptoms such as headaches and body aches , sore throat, hoarseness and coughing.

It can also cause chills, diarrhea , loss of appetite and skin rash . Some patients can no longer move properly because the muscles become stiff. States of confusion can also occur. SARS can be very mild or fatal.

The diagnosis of SARS is suspected when the known symptoms are present in people who have been to the specifically affected countries. In the further course of the virus infection must be secured by a blood test . An X-ray examination and a computed tomography also contribute to the reliable creation of the SARS diagnosis.


Serious complications can develop from the symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome. If the treatment is too late or if the patient is already very weak physically, the immune system can no longer fight the pathogens effectively. This leads to a high fever and the resulting circulatory problems.

Prolonged diarrhea can cause the sufferer to become dehydrated. The lack of fluids and nutrients usually results in further complications, such as impaired consciousness, dehydration and exhaustion. Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath can lead to panic attacks and interacting with the initial symptoms can lead to heart failure. In particular, children, the elderly and the sick are at risk of dying from the extreme physical strain.

The treatment of SARS is relatively risk-free. However, the drugs administered can cause side effects. Antibiotics and the hepatitis C drug ribavirin in particular repeatedly cause symptoms such as skin rashes, spasms of the respiratory muscles and anemia. In combination with other preparations further complications can occur. Requiring intravenous fluids for the patient can sometimes result in injury, aspiration, and allergic reactions.

When should you go to the doctor?

Anyone suffering from SARS must see a doctor as soon as possible. Although the disease cannot be cured, therapy can provide relief. However, the danger in the case of severe acute respiratory syndrome is above all possible accompanying infections of a bacterial nature. These can be cured by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics are also used for prevention.

A comprehensive check of the lungs by a specialist (or in a specialized hospital) is urgently needed. In addition, SARS always carries the high risk of infection, which is why the necessary medical measures can also include quarantine.

The symptoms of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome are serious enough to prompt those affected to see a doctor anyway. In the case of shortness of breath due to enormous irritation in the throat, SARS does not necessarily have to be considered. The disease is rare and only a few outbreak sites are known. Only people who work with the virus in laboratories are currently at acute risk. In addition, if typical symptoms occur, a differential diagnosis is also useful. For example, it must be ruled out that it is the MERS virus.

Treatment & Therapy

So far, no specific treatment for SARS is known, so therapy initially focuses on relieving the symptoms. Success was achieved with the broad -spectrum antibiotic ribavirin , which is also used to treat hepatitis C.

It is able to fight several different pathogens. Cortisone is also administered to treat any bacterial infections that may occur as a result of the viral infection. A mixture of various other antibiotics is also given. Patients affected by the SARS pathogen must be accommodated in an isolation ward with a lock because of the extremely high risk of infection.

Protective gowns, breathing masks, protective goggles and gloves are prescribed for the clinic staff when treating patients. A vaccine for SARS is also being researched, but none has been developed to date. SARS last appeared in 2003. Since no new case has been reported since then, it is assumed that the SARS virus no longer exists.


To prevent SARS , it was recommended to avoid large crowds, especially in the countries China, Thailand and Hong Kong, which were severely affected by the disease at the time. In addition, respiratory masks, such as those worn by doctors during operations, were recommended. Frequent hand washing provides additional protection.


Medical follow-up care for severe acute respiratory syndrome is difficult because there are neither many options for targeted treatment nor comprehensive knowledge about the disease. The aftercare measures therefore mostly consist of protecting the SARS survivors.

The disease debilitates people to varying degrees, so treatment and follow-up care varies from case to case. There were many cases of SARS sufferers in whom the symptoms were only weak. Accordingly, they recovered quite quickly and no longer required medical follow-up care.

In some cases of acute respiratory syndrome, however, there are very severe symptoms that debilitate those affected. In about ten percent of all cases, the infected also die. In severe cases, a recovery period is appropriate after healing. Lung and bronchial tissue attacked by the virus and subsequent bacterial infections needs some time to regenerate. People who have had SARS should therefore avoid overexertion and polluted air for some time.

It is also possible that the SARS-triggering corona virus will also attack the spleen, nerves and spine. A corresponding follow-up examination can be useful for SARS patients who also have other symptoms in addition to breathing and lung problems.

You can do that yourself

Severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is a highly contagious disease. Therefore, if an infection becomes known in the social environment, sufficient protective measures should be taken to protect against possible transmission. The syndrome must be reported when there is a known infection. It is therefore immensely important to work with a doctor in the event of the first irregularities and health impairments.

Since the symptoms include an increased body temperature, an adequate amount of liquid must be consumed. The body threatens to dry out if the fever persists. Since dehydration can become a life-threatening condition, several liters of water should be consumed daily. The disease is a great burden for the patient and the social environment. It is therefore particularly important to remain calm. Avoid panic at all costs. The sleep hygiene of the person concerned should be checked and optimized.

Stress and hustle and bustle should be kept away from the patient. The organism needs all the strength and energy for the healing process. For this reason, disruptive factors and situations of emotional stress should be reduced to a minimum. The symptoms of the disorder can easily be mistaken for the flu. However, since a fatal course can occur, a diagnosis must be obtained from a doctor as soon as possible. A spontaneous healing or a recovery based on alternative healing methods is not to be expected.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.