SARS-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University


While SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) has been around for a while, there is still a great deal of misinformation associated with the disease. This bulletin is posted to ease concern and provide a factual summary.

SARS is a previously unknown disease that begins with a fever greater than 100.4oF.  The symptoms may also include headache, body ache, chills, and a general feeling of discomfort.  There may also be some mild respiratory symptoms, and a dry, nonproductive cough may develop after 2 to 7 days.  The typical incubation period for the disease is 2 to 7 days, although incubation periods of up to 10 days have been suggested.  If you develop these symptoms and have traveled to areas where SARS is present, or if you have been in contact with someone who has, see a physician as soon as possible for an evaluation. 

Because SARS is still relatively new, little is known about its cause, but it is believed to be a previously unrecognized corona virus, so named for its halo appearance when viewed under a microscope.  Corona viruses can survive in the environment for up to 3 hours and are probably spread through close contact with an infected person.  Droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing are a likely means of spreading the infection, but it may also spread through touching contaminated objects. 

Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi have been the historical hot spots for SARS. If you have already been there you should closely monitor your health for at least 10 days after your return. 

The most common misconception about SARS is that it is the result of a bio-terrorism attack.  There is no evidence to support this theory.  

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) web site ( has extensive information on SARS.

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