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What Is SARS?

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One of the most dangerous new viruses to appear in recent years is SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). It has appeared in Asia, North America, and Europe. Thousands of people have contracted it, and about 4 percent of those people have died from it.

SARS begins as a fever, usually higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). SARS sufferers also commonly have chills, headaches, body aches, and a general feeling of discomfort. After two to seven days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough that could lead the body to prevent enough oxygen from getting to the blood.

The virus that causes SARS is usually spread by close person-to-person contact, including touching the skin of an infected person or a surface on which that person has sneezed. Scientists think that the virus can be spread sometimes just through the air.

More than 200 cases have been reported in the United States. The damage caused by the virus has been much more severe in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. China, which recently closed a hospital because many of its workers were infected, has reported 110 of the 260 known SARS-related deaths. Toronto, Canada, has reported 16 deaths and many more infections. Worldwide, the number of cases has surpassed 4,000 and continues to climb.

Should you be concerned? The death rate is not that high. The great majority of the people who get the virus have it for about two weeks, then it runs its course. Health officials warn people to steer clear of anyone who has SARS for at least 10 days, when the symptoms usually go away.

For more information on SARS, contact the World Health Organization.

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