SARS (10 Years After)


Large group of people of all ages and ethniticies

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness that affected many people worldwide in 2003. It was caused by a coronavirus, called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to 29 countries, where 8,096 people got SARS and 774 of them died. The SARS global outbreak was contained in July 2003. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world.


Key Facts

  • SARS was caused by a new coronavirus that had never been found in people before.
  • In 2003, a total of 8,096 people in 29 countries got SARS and 774 of them died.
  • Only eight people in the United States got SARS. None of them died.
  • Health professionals around the world worked together to successfully contain the outbreak in 2003.
  • In six months, the global SARS outbreak cost the world an estimated $40 billion.


SARS virus particles
A Virus that Wears a Crown

SARS is caused by a virus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Under a microscope you can see that each virus particle is surrounded by a corona, or crown. These crowns are little proteins that live on the surface of the virus to determine which cells it can infect. SARS-CoV comes from the same family of viruses that cause the common cold.

Man in hospital bed
SARS Symptoms

A high fever was typically the first sign of illness for people who got SARS. Other symptoms included headaches, malaise (feeling of discomfort), body aches, cough, and diarrhea. Most people developed pneumonia and needed to be hospitalized. Some needed a breathing machine.

Doctors wearing masks consulting
How SARS Was Spread

Infected people spread SARS-CoV by coughing, sneezing, and having close contact with others. When infected people touched surfaces, others got infected by touching these things, then putting their fingers in their eyes, nose, or mouth. Doctors had to wear respirators and sometimes full body protection to keep from getting infected.

CDC laboratory scientist
Solving the Outbreak

A CDC laboratory scientist in 2003 processes blood samples to be tested for SARS. Using special tests to detect antibodies—proteins the body’s immune system produces to fight viruses like one that caused SARS, scientists were able to accurately identify SARS patients. CDC’s lab scientists developed and sent these tests to labs across the nation.

Prevention Tips

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
Page last reviewed: March 3, 2016