What is the role of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the etiology of viral pneumonia?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021
  • Author: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: John J Oppenheimer, MD  more...
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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was due to a novel coronavirus (CoV) that crossed the species barrier through close contact between humans and infected animals. Viral isolation and genomic sequencing have revealed that the SARS virus originated in the masked palm civet cat (Paguma larvata), raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), and possibly the Chinese ferret-badger (Melogale moschata), with subsequent interspecies jumping, during which a partial loss of genome probably led to more efficient human-to-human transmission.

Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sinicus) have also been found to harbor SARS-like coronaviruses (more distantly related to SARS-CoV than that of the palm civets), raising the possibility of bats being a reservoir for future SARS infections.

SARS was a particularly challenging disease because its long incubation period allowed seemingly healthy travelers who were infected with the virus to spread it. The SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) quickly spread from China to the rest of the world over a period of 1 year, affecting more than 8000 patients in 29 countries and resulting in 774 deaths.

Global transmission of SARS was halted in June 2003 after the World Health Organization instituted traditional public health measures, including finding and isolating case-patients, quarantining contacts, and using enhanced infection control. [31] No cases of SARS have been reported since 2004.

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