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 10 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.

Information on this page has been organized into three categories. Please choose one of the following.

General Information

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 10 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 two to seven 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 two to 10 days.

Individuals suspected of having SARS should avoid contact with others, including staying home from work, school or day care, during their illness and for 10 days after their symptoms have disappeared.

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

Provider Information

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. Within 24 hours, submit a case report electronically through the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System (WEDSS), by mail or fax using an Acute and Communicable Disease case report, F44151 (Word) or by other means.
  • Information on communicable disease reporting

CDC: SARS surveillance, evaluation, and reporting in the absence of SARS-CoV transmission worldwide.

Wisconsin case reporting and public health follow-up guidelines

Case Reporting and Investigation Protocol (EpiNet): P-01993, SARS (PDF)

Contact Information

Thomas Haupt, Influenza Surveillance Coordinator
Division of Public Health
Bureau of Communicable Diseases
Phone 608-266-5326
Fax 608-261-4976

Last Revised: October 7, 2021