SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
While the appearance of any new infectious disease is cause for concern, there is no need to panic--especially in the U.S. Of the 115 or so Americans suspected of having SARS, all have either recently traveled to Asia or come into direct, face-to-face contact with a SARS patient.
HOW DO YOU CATCH SARS?
Most cases seem to be passed on through direct, close contact. When people sneeze or cough, they send virus-laden droplets of fluid into the air, which others nearby inhale. SARS may also be spread through water or sewage or contaminated objects like doorknobs.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The illness usually begins with a fever of 100.4ºF or higher (sometimes with chills), headache, body aches and malaise. Patients develop a dry cough and difficulty breathing; some get diarrhea. Most people start to recover after five or six days.
IF YOU DON'T HAVE SYMPTOMS, CAN YOU STILL INFECT OTHERS?
It's possible. Researchers don't know enough about SARS to say for sure, but in general, viruses can be shed for several days before symptoms appear.
HOW IS SARS TREATED?
Doctors are using the same antibiotics, antivirals and steroids that they give to patients with "atypical pneumonia." Patients are isolated in specially ventilated hospital rooms, and medical workers wear masks, gowns, gloves and goggles to prevent further transmission.
HOW DEADLY IS SARS?
Not as lethal as you might fear. As of last Saturday, 89 people had died of SARS, none of them in the U.S. Health officials put the mortality rate from SARS at 3.7%. By comparison, the West Nile virus killed 277 Americans last year (a 6.7% death rate), and the flu kills 36,000 people a year in the U.S. alone.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
Children and adults of all ages, regardless of health, have been infected. As with most other respiratory infections, the very old and patients with pre-existing conditions tend to suffer the most.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF?
Wash your hands a lot. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. In short, practice good hygiene--it will also cut down on the number of common colds you catch.
SHOULD I WEAR A SURGICAL MASK?
Probably not. The only people who need to wear masks are SARS patients and their caretakers.
SHOULD I CANCEL MY NEXT TRIP TO ASIA?
If you can. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that you postpone all elective travel to Hong Kong, mainland China, Hanoi, Vietnam and Singapore. The World Health Organization has issued a similar travel advisory asking people to steer clear of Guangdong province and Hong Kong. Toronto, however, should be O.K.
I'VE JUST RETURNED FROM ASIA. SHOULD I STAY HOME FOR A WHILE?
Unless you're exhibiting symptoms of SARS, there's probably no reason to lock yourself inside. But you should monitor your health for 10 days after your return--and inform your doctor of any changes. --By Sora Song