SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is a severe pneumonia-like respiratory disease that first came to worldwide attention in southeast Asia in February 2003.
Pneumonia is a general term for an inflammation of the air sacs of the lungs caused by an infection or chemical. With pneumonia, the lungs fill with fluid, which interferes with their ability to transfer oxygen to the blood. SARS is known as an atypical pneumonia because it is not caused by the usual bacteria or viruses.
SARS causes high fever, severe breathing problems, and flu-like symptoms. Over 8,000 cases were reported worldwide during the 2003 outbreak. In Canada, about 10% of those infected with SARS died from the disease.
Putting things into perspective, the flu currently causes an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year and as many as 2,000 to 8,000 Canadians die each year from flu and its complications. In contrast, during the SARS outbreak in 2003, there were 8,098 probable cases and 774 deaths from SARS worldwide. Since the outbreak, a few cases were reported in 2004 (from laboratory exposure), but no cases have been reported since.