Here's how coronavirus compares to SARS, and when the respiratory syndrome first broke out

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 11:16 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 11:16 am

With coronavirus continuing to spread, thoughts are turning back to previous epidemics and viral outbreaks.

Even in the early days of the outbreak, the virus was compared to SARS, which led to alarm from those who could remember the outbreak of that virus.

But what is SARS? When did it break out? And how does it compare to coronavirus?

Here is everything you need to know:

What is SARS?

SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome and is caused by the SARS coronavirus. Coronaviruses commonly cause infections in humans and animals.

It is an airborne virus, which means that it travels in the same way that colds and flus are spread. SARS is spread via small droplets of saliva that have been coughed or sneezed into the air by someone carrying the virus. Someone else then becomes infected by breathing in these droplets.

SARS can also be spread indirectly if someone carrying it touches surfaces (like door handles) with unwashed hands - someone who then touches the same surface may also become infected.

When was the outbreak?

SARS was in the news between 2002 and 2004, when an outbreak that originated in Foshan in south China began to spread.

The first reported case is believed to have been a farmer, who was confirmed as having SARS on 16 November 2002.

Chinese authorities confirmed an outbreak to the World Health Organisation a couple of months later on 10 February 2003, by which time there had been 305 cases and five deaths.

The outbreak came to an end in the winter of 2004; in May 2005, Jim Yardley of the New York Times wrote that "not a single case of the severe acute respiratory syndrome" had been reported that year, or in late 2004.

"It is the first winter without a case since the initial outbreak in late 2002," he said. "In addition, the epidemic strain of SARS that caused at least 774 deaths worldwide by June 2003 has not been seen outside of a laboratory since then."

How does SARS compare to coronavirus?

Coronavirus has already far outstripped SARS in terms of numbers of people affected, and fatalities.

Over 8,000 people were infected, and at least 774 died worldwide during the 2002 – 2004 outbreak.

At the time of writing, coronavirus has infected over 119,000 people, and killed more than 4,300.

China, Hong Kong and Taiwan were the worst affected countries, although the virus also spread to Canada, where there were 251 cases.

In the UK, only four cases were recorded, with zero deaths.

Symptoms of SARS

People with SARS will exhibit flu-like symptoms that generally appear around two to seven days after they’ve been infected.

The symptoms of SARS include:

A high temperature (fever)Extreme tiredness (fatigue)HeadachesChillsMuscle painLoss of appetiteDiarrhoea

After these symptoms have arisen, the infection will start to affect your lungs and airways, leading to additional symptoms, such as:

Dry coughBreathing difficultiesAn increasing lack of oxygen in the blood, which has proven fatal in severe cases