Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS): Care Instructions

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The respiratory system

Your Care Instructions

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is an illness that first infected people in Asia, North America, and Europe in 2002. It causes a fever, muscle aches, and a sore throat. Some people also get a dry cough or diarrhea. Most people get pneumonia. In some cases, these symptoms get worse very quickly.

SARS is usually spread through saliva or droplets from coughing. Researchers are testing a vaccine for SARS. But it may be years before it is available.

Severe SARS can be very serious. For this reason, it is usually treated in the hospital. With treatment, most people recover.

A doctor may think that a person has SARS if the person:

  • Has a fever and has a cough or trouble breathing, and
  • Had close contact with a person who may have SARS or was in an area with a SARS outbreak 10 days before symptoms appeared.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

To prevent infection

  • Avoid areas that have a SARS outbreak, and avoid contact with people who are known or thought to have the infection. For the latest information on outbreaks, see the website of the World Health Organization at You also can check the Health Canada website at
  • If an outbreak occurs in an area where you are, try to avoid large public places and crowds.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Or you can use an alcohol hand sanitizer.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of SARS and you were in an area with a SARS outbreak.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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