Synonyms: Severe acute respiratory syndrome

Medical Specialties: Emergency medicine, Pulmonology

Clinical Definition

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral infectious disease that results in a serious respiratory infection. The causative agent is a SARS-associated coronavirus. SARS often causes pneumonia-like symptoms to develop, which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). It is most often spread through respiratory droplets. The virus’s incubation period (from exposure to infection) usually takes two to 7 days.

In Our Own Words

Different types of coronaviruses exist, causing infections such as the common cold. The SARS-coronavirus is what brings about SARS, a respiratory infection that may lead to a serious form of pneumonia. If severe enough, the pneumonia can progress into respiratory failure.


The illness is spread from person to person, most often through breathing airborne droplets from a sneeze or cough of an infected person. Unlike many other viral respiratory illnesses, SARS normally takes a longer time – two to seven days from the time of infection – for any upper respiratory symptoms to develop. 

Relevant Conditions
  • Community acquired pneumonia
Side Effects
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  • Baylor College of Medicine. “SARS Virus.” Accessed September 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “What is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)?” Accessed September 2013.
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).” Accessed September 2013.
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