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SARS-CoV/SARS Explained and compared to SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19

As SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 continues to claim lives of thousands of people every day across the globe, one may wonder what went wrong initially that brought us to this grim situation today.

Hundreds of cities around the world are still in lockdown. Living in lockdown is not easy and living under a constant fear that you might get infected with COVID-19 makes many people look for answers to their silent questions about viruses and infectious diseases in which they have never been interested before.

Grab a cup of tea or coffee and let’s explore today SARS, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, that first appeared in 2002 and is a “cousin” of the present SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19.

What Is SARS-CoV-2 Causing COVID-19 That Is Spreading Across the Globe?

SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that causes COVID-19 characterised by symptoms such as a high temperature, a continuous and dry cough, tiredness, and some people also experience a sore throat, diarrhea and skin rash.

It is zoonotic in nature as we humans got it from the wildlife.This article covers this issue in more detail. However, at present it is not clear from what specific creature the virus jumped to humans.

It is a novel coronavirus and we are still learning a lot about it as we go along. SARS-CoV-2 has already proved to be deadly for some humans but not for others. These are a few mysteries that surround SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 among many more and those were covered in detail here.

What is SARS/SARS-CoV?

It was back in 2002 that the cousin of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, namely, SARS-CoV or simply SARS first appeared.

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It is a coronavirus of animal origin that originated in horseshoe bats and spread to civet cats (as briefly discussed here). It then found its way to humans.

The first infected humans were identified in the south of China, Guangdong province, in November 2002 and to date the area is considered to be a zone of potential re-emergence of SARS-CoV.

SARS/SARS-CoV Symptoms

The symptoms of SARS usually begin within 2 to 10 days after catching the SARS virus.

SARS symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle pain

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headache

  • Diarrhoea

  • Shivering

The infection might develop further leading to a dry cough, breathing difficulties and oxygen starvation in the lungs.

SARS CoV compared to SARS-CoV-2


As with SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19, SARS originated in animals(horseshoe bats as natural reservoirs of the SARS virus) and jumped on to humans.

Human-to-human Transmission

SARS CoV as SARS-CoV-2 have a human-to-human transmission despite having originated in animals. Both of these viruses somehow jumped to humans and it is not clear how at present.

Spread of virus from humans to pets

During the SARS outbreak a small number of household pets tested positive for the SARS virus as is the case with SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19. No transmission was found between household pets to humans neither with the SARS nor SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19. It is likely that household pets got infected from their owners.

Incubation period

The incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 is longer than SARS-CoV. This means that despite being infected with SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 you do not display symptoms of the disease. For this reason people do not seek medical assistance on time and spread COVID-19 without being aware of it. This makes SARS-CoV-2 more contagious than the original SARS-CoV virus that appeared in 2002.

Symptoms and treatment

Both viruses lead to similar symptoms in humans and the treatment usually deals with the symptoms that the patient is presented with as we have no cure or vaccine for neither SARS nor SARS-CoV-2. The treatment usually involves antiviral medicines, antibiotics to treat bacteria that cause pneumonia, steroids to reduce lung swelling and using ventilators to deliver oxygen to assist with breathing. There is not much scientific evidence to indicate that these treatments are effective though.


SARS prevention involves more or less the same measures as SARS-CoV-2 prevention including:

  1. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap or alcohol based rub

  2. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and dispose of tissue that you use for it straight away

  3. Regularly clean surfaces with disinfectant

  4. Avoid sharing drinks, food and utensils(the “modern version” of “social distancing” measures in the UK).

  5. Wearing masks, gloves and goggles can help to prevent SARS spread.


A picture is incomplete for now.

A SARS-CoV did not become a pandemic on such a large scale as SARS-CoV-2.The SARS outbreak was contained, whereas SARS-CoV-2 outbreak has become uncontrolled. A SARS-CoV epidemic between 2002-2004 affected 29 countries, more than 8 000 cases were recorded, around 800 deaths. By contrast, as of 4 May 2020 SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 has affected 212 countries with 3,582,892 confirmed cases, around 249,000 deaths.

On average, the SARS virus killed 1 in 10. Over 65 years age group was at risk and more than 50% of deaths from SARS were from this age group. We cannot say what the mortality rate for SARS-CoV-2 is now as we do not have all the data from all over the world. In addition, in some countries the virus is just beginning its “travel” and so there is not enough and sufficient data to come to any conclusions. To understand which of these viruses is deadlier for certain age groups and in general, we would need to have the final death toll once the SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 ends.

How SARS outbreak ended

The SARS outbreak ended in July 2003 due to efficient policies of isolating those who were suspected of having the condition. In addition, screening all passengers travelling by air from affected countries for signs of SARS was implemented.

As mentioned above in this article, SARS incubation period was shorter than SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 and for this reason it was easier to identify, isolate and “treat” those who were infected with the SARS virus.

It is estimated that SARS cost between $30 and $50 billion to the global economy from 2002 to 2003.

The SARS-CoV has reappeared 4 times since then-3 times from laboratory accidents and once in southern China where it was originally identified.

What is next?

Any outbreak is damaging to human health, lives, economy and society. The outbreak on such a large scale is devastating not only physically but mentally too.

As the world watches the death toll rising every day and new outbreaks recorded throughout the world, one lives in uncertainty about when it will end and how it will end.

There are over 1.67 million of unknown viruses on this planet and humanity lives in a constant threat of a potential pandemic. The question is how well we can prepare for the next one in advance.

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