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What is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)?

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS is a viral respiratory infection similar to pneumonia. SARS is a new disease. The first Canadian cases were identified in March 2003 in people who had travelled to Hong Kong and returned to Canada. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have not been any known cases of SARS reported any where in the world since 2004.


What are the symptoms of SARS?

The main symptoms of SARS include both a fever over 38°C (100.4°F) and respiratory problems. The illness begins with a fever greater than 38°C. The fever is associated with chills, headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, dry cough and shortness of breath, or breathing difficulties.


What is the cause of SARS?

SARS is caused by a previously unknown virus called SARS-associated coronavirus. Usually coronaviruses cause moderate upper respiratory symptoms such as the common cold.

Scientists believe that other infectious agents might play a role in certain cases of SARS.


How long does SARS take to develop?

The incubation period for SARS is from 2 to 7 days. However, some reports have suggested an incubation period as long as 10 days.


How is SARS transmitted?

SARS is spread from person to person through close contact. Examples of close contact include having cared for or lived with a person known to have SARS, or had direct contact with droplets from coughing or sneezing of someone affected by SARS. The virus also can spread when a person touches a surface contaminated with infectious fluids and then touches his mouth, nose, or eyes.


Which occupations are at risk?

People caring for an individual with SARS are at the greatest risk for contracting the disease. This includes health care workers in institutional settings such as acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, mental health hospitals, long term care facilities, and emergency departments, and others who work close to their clients or patients. Persons living with individuals with SARS are also at risk for contracting the disease.


What are the recommendations to prevent transmission of SARS?

Health Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have developed infection control guidance for workers at risk. The recommendations include:

Hand Washing

Hand washing is the most important hygiene measure in preventing the spread of infection. Hands must be washed before and after contact with a patient. After contact with body fluids and after contact with items known to be contaminated with respiratory secretions. Plain soap may be used for routine hand washing.

Gloves

Gloves should be used as an additional measure, not as a substitute for hand washing. Gloves should be used before contact with the patient and they should be removed and hands washed prior to leaving the patient's room.

Gowns

Long sleeved gowns should be worn by all health care workers if direct contact with the patient is anticipated.

Mask, Eye Protection, Face Shield

Health Canada and CDC in the U.S. recommend N95 type respirators for use by health care workers during all patient contact. N95 filters belong to a group of air-purifying particulate filters certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and these certifications are used in Canada.

Particulate respirators are the same as what used to be called dust, fume, and mist respirators or masks. N-type filters are for airborne solid and water-based particulates. The "95" in N95 means that the filter can capture or stop 95% of the particulates 0.3 microns (micrometers) in diameter; but, to be effective the respirators must be well-fitted to the face to prevent leakage around the edges.

Surgical masks may offer some protection. However, the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recommended that the labelling for surgical masks contain the following precaution statement:

"Surgical masks, where worn properly may reduce potential exposure of the wearer to blood and body fluids but do not eliminate the risk of contracting any disease or infection".

For additional information about surgical masks please access the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration website.

Eye protection or face shields (with safety glasses or goggles) are also recommended for health care workers where there is a potential for splattering or spraying of blood or other body fluids.

For additional information about infection control please access the Health Canada website.

For international resources about SARS you can access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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Document last updated on August 28, 2013

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