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Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Communicable  Diseases Subjects A-Z



Sexually Transmitted Diseases


Disease Reporting

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

SARS is a respiratory disease with symptoms ranging from mild illness to severe pneumonia. Signs and symptoms include fever (over 100.4 Fahrenheit) with cough or shortness of breath generally appearing from two to ten days after exposure. 

In Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services has, through the Division of Public Health and the local public health agencies, an established network of health care providers who are on constant alert for influenza-like illness. This system has adapted well to include detection of SARS-like symptoms.  

Individuals who have been in contact with a person suspected of having SARS should also be alert for any respiratory symptoms.  Health care providers should report any unusual respiratory illness they see among their patients to the Division of Public Health by calling 608-267-9003

General information

Scientists at CDC and other laboratories have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus in patients with SARS. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans and are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic disease in animals.

For a severe respiratory illness to be SARS, there has to be a history of travel to a SARS affected area, or close personal contact with a person with SARS, within ten days before symptoms start. 

In general, SARS begins with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4F [38.0C]). Other symptoms may include headache, an overall feeling of discomfort, and body aches. Some people also have mild respiratory symptoms at the outset. About 10 to 20 percent of patients have diarrhea. After 2 to 7 days, patients develop a dry cough, shortness of breath, and pneumonia.

SARS is spread primarily by close person-to-person contact. The virus that causes SARS is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus also can spread when a person touches a surface or object contaminated with these infectious droplets and then touches his or her mouth, nose or eyes.

In the context of SARS, close contact means having cared for or lived with someone with SARS or having contact with respiratory secretions of a patient with SARS. Examples of close contact include: kissing or hugging, sharing eating or drinking utensils, or sustained interaction within 3 feet of someone infected with SARS. Close contact does not include walking by an infected person or sitting across from an infected person for a short period of time.

After exposure to SARS, the incubation period is 2-10 days. 

Individuals suspected of having SARS should avoid contact with others, including staying home from work, school or daycare, during their illness and for ten days after their symptoms have disappeared. 

Only those who have signs and symptoms consistent with SARS need to be restricted from normal activities.

Information for health professionals

This is a Wisconsin disease surveillance category I disease:
Report IMMEDIATELY by TELEPHONE to the patient's local public health department upon identification of a confirmed or suspected case. The local health department shall then notify the state epidemiologist immediately of any confirmed or suspected cases. Submit a case report within 24 hours submit a case report electronically through the Wisconsin Electronic Surveillance System (WEDSS), by mail or fax using an Acute and Communicable Disease case report F44151 or by other means. 
Information on communicable disease reporting

SARS CDC surveillance, evaluation, and reporting in the absence of SARS-CoV transmission worldwide. (Exit DHS) 

Wisconsin case reporting and public health follow-up guidelines: SARS EpiNet

Additional resources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Exit DHS)  
The World Health Organization (WHO) (Exit DHS)


Wisconsin Local Health Departments - Regional offices - Tribal agencies

Last Revised: March 04, 2014