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The abbreviation for severe acute respiratory syndrome, a potentially serious viral infection that can cause pneumonia.  SARS is caused by a new strain of coronavirus an, in many cases, is spread by close personal contact.

Symptoms appear two to seven days after infection and include acute fever (occasionally with chills), aching muscles, and headache.  After a further three to seven days, a dry (no productive) cough (accompanied by shortness of breath that can become extreme) can develop which can indicate pneumonia.

Various tests can be performed to confirm the diagnosis and count out other possible causes of pneumonia.  These can include a blood test to check for antibodies associated with the virus, a viral culture, and a genetic test to look for viral DNA in the blood, nasal secretions or faeces.

Treatment includes oxygen therapy, (with artificial ventilation if needed) and, in certain cases, antibiotic and/antiviral drugs.  There is no vaccination or curative treatment available at present, and therefore control of the disease depends on the physical measures, include handwashing, the use of face masks, and isolation of infected people.  Many people recover from SARS, including those who develop pneumonia, although in certain cases the illness is fatal.

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