SARS: What We Learned During The 2003 Outbreak


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness. It is caused by a coronavirus known as SARS-COV, belonging to the coronavirus family of viruses. Coronaviruses are very common. There are more than 40 named coronaviruses in the world, the majority affecting only animals, and those affecting humans generally causing only mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. The common cold is another example of a coronavirus.

SARS was unique to this class of viruses, in that it was both fiercely contagious and had a much higher fatality rate, with somewhere between 20 and 30% of cases requiring medical ventilation.

SARS was first identified in Asia in February 2003, and spread to a number of countries across North America, South America, Europe and Asia before being contained by July of that year.

SARS Epidemic

The 2003 SARS epidemic affected 26 countries and resulted in over 8000 cases. Although not eradicated, only a very small number of SARS cases have occurred since then.

The virus is transmitted from person to person, and appears to be most contagious during the second week of illness, at which point the virus is excreted through respirations (coughing, breathing and sneezing), as well as in the stool of an infected person. This point is also when those affected with a severe version of the disease began to deteriorate more quickly, meaning that most transmission took place in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

The swift transmission of SARS, coupled with the relatively high mortality rate (around 10%), caused serious concern when the virus was identified. Luckily, thanks to rapid implementations of effective control practices, the outbreak was contained and ended within just a few months.

Whilst the epidemic was contained, it is impossible to rule out future outbreaks of SARS, as the virus is still present in wild bats and civets, and there are laboratory cultures present in labs around the world. It was the accidental release of SARS from a laboratory that caused a small outbreak in 2004.

Symptoms Of SARS

Starting out as what appears to be a regular bout of influenza, symptoms of SARS only begin two to seven days after first catching the virus. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting (although these are less common)

The second phase of the virus is more acute, with sufferers presenting symptoms of atypical pneumonia:

  • Dry cough
  • Dyspnea (severe shortness of breath)
  • Hypoxia (inability to maintain oxygenation)

The final stage of SARS is a potentially fatal form of respiratory failure, whilst other parts of the body begin to shut down. SARS has been known to cause kidney failure, inflammation of the heart and severe systemic bleeding.

How SARS Spreads

Like other influenza viruses, SARS is most easily spread through close contact with an infected person. The virus can be found in respiratory droplets which are expelled when the person coughs, sneezes or talks, and are thrown out into the air where they can be breathed in by another person. The virus can also be spread when a person touches a surface on which these droplets have landed, and then touches their eyes, mouth or nose.

Scientists have posited that SARS droplets may also live on and be contracted from the air itself (airborne).

What Are The Risk Factors For SARS?

SARS was found to be perfectly capable of infecting any person of any age or level of health, although there were some people that were found to be in higher risk groups for contracting the virus than others during the 2003 outbreak. These were:

  • People aged 50+
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with underlying conditions (including heart disease and diabetes)

SARS Treatment

Considered a medical emergency, SARS was found to be resistant to all drugs including antibiotics. This meant that people admitted to hospital with the virus could be provided only with medicines to alleviate symptoms, and regular monitoring and support from healthcare staff.

People admitted to hospital with SARS in 2003 were not placed into quarantine, as the WHO recommended simply isolating patients with active cases, and utilising barrier techniques such as masks and goggles to protect doctors and staff.


Were an outbreak of SARS-COV to occur again, the best way to prevent against catching or spreading the virus would be to follow these steps:

  • Frequent hand washing, or cleaning hands with hand sanitiser
  • Avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth without first washing hands
  • Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or the crook of the elbow when coughing or sneezing
  • Not sharing food or drink with others
  • Staying more than 3 feet away from other people
  • Cleaning surfaces with disinfectant on a regular basis
  • Those diagnosed with SARS would also be required to isolate and avoid other people for 10 days.

Airius PureAir and SARS

Another way people might try to keep their home and business environments safe during a SARS outbreak would be to use air purification systems to clean the air and the surfaces around them.

The PHI Cell technology integrated in the Airius PureAir Air Purification and Odour Control System manufactured by RGF Environmental, one of the worlds leading specialists in air, water and food purification is proven to significantly improve indoor air quality by removing or reducing viruses, bacteria and odours by up to 99%+, using an advanced oxidisation technology known as photohydroionization (PHI).

As mentioned above, Airius’ PureAir fan units are equipped with a PHI Cell, which emits ‘Ionised Hydroperoxides’, a naturally occurring cleaning agent. These neutralising molecules are circulated along with the air in the room, providing 24 hour clean air within the space.

Extensive independent studies have been carried out on the PHI Cell by RGF, their clients and a wide range of certifying laboratories and organisations to identify its effectiveness in cleaning the air. In one study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and tested by the Chinese Government, it was found that PHI was effective in deactivating SARS-COV at a rate of 99%+.

Even if an Airius PureAir was not able to completely eradicate SARS in the air, it is proven to improve the overall health of the air in the room, offering a better environment for humans to live in and ensuring a healthier atmosphere for building immunity and fighting against viruses and bacteria.

You can find out more about how PureAir technology can help to make your workplace a cleaner and safer space by calling us on 01202 554 200 or by emailing us at