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Epidemic Control Toolkit
for community volunteers
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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Last update: 2024-05-27

Key facts

Transmission: Droplet and direct contact

  • When infected people cough, sneeze, blow their nose or spit, they spread small droplets through the air, which are then breathed in by other people
  • Direct contact (for example, through kissing, sharing cups or eating utensils) with infected saliva or nose mucous

Most vulnerable to severe consequences

  • People with weakened immune systems or underlying chronic diseases

Most vulnerable to contracting the disease

  • Adults between 25—70 years


  • Fever (usually)
  • Cough (usually)
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath (usually)
  • Headache (sometimes)
  • Sore throat (sometimes)
  • Abdominal pain (sometimes)
  • Diarrhoea (sometimes)
  • Muscle pain (sometimes)

What can you do to prevent and control an epidemic?

Monitoring the community and identifying sick people

  • Identify and isolate sick people before they spread the disease to others

Treatment and management

  • Refer suspected cases to health facilities
  • Provide psychosocial support to the sick person and their family members

Sanitation and waste management

  • Promote proper disposal of waste that might be contaminated 
  • Promote disinfection of reusable supplies

Hand and respiratory hygiene

  • Promote good hand hygiene (handwashing with soap) 
    • BEFORE: preparing food; eating; feeding a child; treating wounds; or caring for sick people
    • AFTER: using the toilet or cleaning a baby; touching garbage or waste; touching or feeding animals; blowing nose, coughing or sneezing; treating wounds; or caring for sick people
  • Promote respiratory hygiene and coughing etiquette (cover your cough or sneeze using your sleeve or a tissue, wash hands after coughing or sneezing, do not spit onto the ground or in public)

Personal protection and hygiene

  • Practise and promote social distancing
  • Use and promote personal protective equipment (for example, face masks and gloves) when in contact with potential cases

Social mobilization and health promotion

  • Find out the specific advice being given by health and other relevant authorities 
    • Promote recommended health practices (such as social distancing, separation of healthy people and sick people, etc.)
  • Model following this advice and inform community members of current health practice advice 
  • Offer support and encouragement to follow the advice  
    • Try to gain understanding about if and why health practice advice is not being followed  
    • With the guidance of your supervisor and health authorities, work with communities to overcome barriers to following health advice and recommended practice

Mapping and community assessment

  • Make a map of the community.
  • Mark the following information on the map:
    • How many people have fallen sick with SARS? Where?
    • How many people have died? Where? When?
    • Who and where are the vulnerable people?
    • Where are the health facilities? (include traditional healers)
  • Record the following information on the back of the map:
    • When did people start to fall sick with SARS? 
    • How many people live in the affected community? How many are children under five years?
    • Are there handwashing facilities in the community? Are soap and water always available? 
    • How common is it for people to live or work together in crowded spaces? 
      • Is there ventilation and fresh air in homes, schools and workplaces? 
    • Who and where are the vulnerable people? Who is most affected by SARS?
    • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about caring for sick people? Consider any differences in roles and responsibilities between women and men.
    • Is a social mobilization or health promotion programme in place?
    • Which sources do people use/trust the most for information?
      • Are there rumours or misinformation about SARS? What are the rumours?