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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS): Causes, Symptoms, Risk factors, Treatment And Prevention

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a life-threatening and contagious viral infection that has caused an epidemic in the year 2002 in China and across other countries. The speed of the spread of the infection has alarmed the world and made international health experts search for the prevention from SARS coronavirus.

The term 'coronavirus' refers to a group of viruses in animals that gets transmitted to humans and spread diseases. There are six types of coronavirus discovered till date out of which four cause common cold symptoms. The remaining two are considered dangerous as they mutate into deadly strains in animals and cause serious respiratory diseases when gets transmitted to humans. [1]

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Spread Of SARS

According to the WHO report, SARS has caused 774 deaths and infected 8096 people in 2002, the time of its first outbreak. The spread of the SARS coronavirus was mainly from the coronavirus found in bats and palm civets (also known as toddy cats). When the virus was first spread, the human body was not prepared with its antibodies as it was the first spread at the time. Hence, many people got affected at a faster rate.

According to a study, the SARS-CoV first adapt themselves in the body of the aforementioned mammals and then mutate to more deadly forms. When these mutated form of coronavirus comes in contact with humans, they infect them who in turn, spread the infection to other humans by their respiratory secretions like cough or sneeze.

Coronavirus in animals can affect humans in many ways. For example-when people eat the meat of bats, use its faeces in medicines or uses their skin in manufacturing-the virus transmits to humans easily. After coming in contact with humans, the virus first affects the lungs and cause common cold symptoms accompanied by severe respiratory problems a week later. When people sneeze or cough without any mask, the secretion of the lungs come out and spread around in the form of droplets in objects like doorbells or door handles. Touching the infected droplets and then touching the nose, allow the virus to enter your lungs and cause deadly symptoms. [2]

The SARS-CoV spread from individual to individual through respiratory secretions when it comes in contact with the mucous membranes like eyes, mouth or nose. Therefore, possibilities are that the infection can also spread through kissing, hugging, eating together or speaking with the infected person with less than 3 feet distance.

When SARS first prevailed in 2002, several control measures were taken in healthcare departments to prevent the spread of the disease in the area. The report says that around 2000 healthcare workers were infected with SARS-CoV. Also, several preventive measures were taken to prevent the spread of the virus in households, like the infected people were kept in isolation for 10 days until the symptoms go.

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Symptoms Of SARS

The incubation period of SARS coronavirus is between 2-7 days. In the beginning, the symptoms of SARS will be flu-like which are as follows: [3]

  • High fever of around 105 Fahrenheit
  • Muscle ache
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • General discomfort
  • Loss of appetite

After a week, the symptoms will develop into conditions like

  • shortness of breath,
  • dry cough,
  • diarrhoea,
  • confusion.

In more severe case, the patient may develop disorders like pneumonia, respiratory failure, liver failure and heart failure. [4]

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Risk Factors Of SARS

SARS can spread to anyone irrespective of age, gender or health condition. However, a few factors increase the risk of SARS which are as follows: [5]

  • Old age
  • People with chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart or liver diseases.
  • People with a compromised immune system
  • Travelling to an infected place
  • Dealing with infected patients or working in the healthcare industry
  • Close contact with the infected person.

What Is Human Coronavirus? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

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Complications Of SARS

A severe form of SARS can develop a potential threat for people. They may cause complications like the following:

  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Inflammation of the heart [6]
  • Lymphopenia
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (body's inability to clot)
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Diagnosis Of SARS

The diagnosis of SARS is often confused as the symptoms are similar to the flu. When the first case of SARS was reported in 2002, there were no tests to identify the disease, but nowadays there are a few tests which are carried out to identify the SARS coronavirus. Those tests are only done after proper investigation of the patient's history like their visit to prevailed countries, working in healthcare centres or recent exposure to infected mammals or people. The result is conveyed by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Department (CDC). Also, if other tests (like pneumonia test) comes positive despite the SARS causing guidelines, it is not considered SARS. [7]

Some of the diagnostic tests are as follows:

  • Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test: This test is carried out on the blood or respiratory secretion of an infected person. It is done according to CDC guidelines.
  • Radiography: To diagnose pneumonia, one of its serious symptoms.
  • Serologic testing: To detect SARS-CoV antibodies in the bloodstream.
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Treatment Of SARS

The exact treatment for SARS is not yet developed. However, there are certain supportive treatment methods to lower its symptoms like oxygen therapy, antibiotics, mechanical ventilation and endotracheal intubation (the insertion of a tube in the trachea for the free passage of air from the lungs). Healthcare workers were advised to wear protective gears like goggles and mask to prevent the spread of the disease. [8]

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Preventive Measures For SARS

  • Maintain good hygiene
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water or sanitizer
  • Cover the mouth during coughing or sneezing
  • Don't touch the eyes or nose with dirty hands
  • Wear mask and eyeglasses when in the crowd
  • Don't share items like utensils or towels with infected people

When SARS first outbreak in China, seeing the severity of the condition, strict infection-control measures were taken. The suspected patients and patients with confirmed SARS were kept in an isolated room and all medical workers were given strict information to wear protective gears while handling those patients. The room was such in which the air was not forced out, instead, it was passed through a ‘high-efficiency' air filter where it is decontaminated and forced back to the room. [9]

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