Los Angeles Times

SARS questions and answers

The disease called severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, continues to make headlines. Here are answers to some concerns about it.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. It usually begins with a fever of more than 100.4 F., sometimes with chills and headache and body aches. After two to seven days, patients may develop a cough. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and pneumonia.

Q. Who's most at risk of getting SARS?

A. Travelers to or residents of certain parts of Asia, and people who've had direct close contact with an infected person, like health care workers and those sharing a household with a SARS patient. Apart from that, there's no sign of it spreading in communities in the United States at the moment, federal authorities say.

Q. What should I do if I think I have SARS?

A. If you have a fever of more than 100.4 F. and develop a cough or difficulty breathing, contact a health care provider. Explain any recent travel to regions where SARS has been reported and whether you were in close contact with someone who had these symptoms.

Q. How does SARS spread?

A. The germ apparently travels on the tiny droplets of fluid that an infected person spews out when coughing or sneezing. Experts say they're concerned about the possibility that it might also travel more broadly through the air.

Q. What can I do to avoid SARS?

A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends postponing non-essential trips to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam. While some SARS cases have been reported in Canada, there's no sign of widespread community spread, so CDC isn't advising against travel to or from there.

Q. Can I catch the germ from an infected passenger in an airplane?

A. There have been a few reports suggesting that. The World Health Organization says that doesn't necessarily mean the germ spreads through recirculated air, however. To reduce the international spread of SARS, WHO is urging officials to screen international airline passengers departing from Toronto, Singapore, Hanoi and several Chinese cities for possible SARS and ask those who appear sick to delay their trip until they feel better.

Q. Is there a cure?

A. None has been identified yet.

Q. What caused those clusters of cases in the Hong Kong hotel and apartment building?

A. It's not yet clear how the germ was transmitted in those cases. Scientists believe SARS is caused by a type of coronavirus, the virus family that causes the common cold. Other coronaviruses can survive up to three hours outside the body. So it's possible that if an infected person coughed droplets onto a door handle or some other object that a second person later touched, that second person might become infected.

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