Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is caused by a new virus that first appeared in China in November 2002. Scientists believe SARS is caused by a virus from the same family of viruses as the common cold. The time from exposure to onset of the illness is up to 10 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is continuing to investigate the outbreak of 2002-2003. A total of over 8000 cases and nearly 800 deaths occurred worldwide.
It appears that the disease emerged naturally and cases primarily involved healthcare workers caring for patients with SARS and/or close family contacts. Symptoms include a fever greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C) combined with one of the following symptoms of respiratory illness: cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, bluish coloring in the fingers or lips due to lack of oxygen, or X-ray indicating pneumonia or acute respiratory distress. A suspect case is a person with the above symptoms paired with travel within 10 days of onset of symptoms to an area with documented or suspected community transmission of SARS or close contact within 10 days of onset of symptoms with either a person with a respiratory illness who traveled to a SARS area or with a person known to be a suspect SARS case. Close contact is defined as having cared for, having lived with, or having direct contact with respiratory secretions and/or body fluids of a patient known to be a suspect SARS case.
Currently, prevention of new cases is based on following appropriate infection control measures. Recommendations for precautions include:
- Washing your hands frequently.
- Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Postponing all unnecessary travel to regions currently affected by SARS.
- Avoiding sharing eating utensils.
- Seeing a doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of SARS.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) will continue to provide education and training to hospitals and healthcare providers throughout NH, provide information to school officials, brief state emergency response personnel, provide public health follow up to reported suspect cases, and work closely with the CDC to increase the understanding of the disease in the absence of SARS and if it recurs.
Presently, no vaccine or specific treatment for SARS has been identified.