SARS
(sarz) n. Severe acute respiratory syndrome; a highly contagious, pneumonia-like illness with symptoms that include high fever, shortness of breath, and coughing. — v.

Example Citations:
As if the world—and the airline industry—didn't have enough to worry about, health officials on three continents last week were warning travelers to beware of a deadly, highly contagious form of pneumonia being rapidly carried around the world by passengers on jet planes. By Saturday night, at least nine people had died, one of them an American businessman traveling in Asia. The World Health Organization issued a rare emergency travel advisory after receiving reports of at least 150 cases. Meanwhile, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta were scrambling to identify the bug before it hit the U.S.

The disease triggers flulike symptoms—high fever, coughing, shortness of breath—but because it hasn't been responding to either antibiotics or antivirals, doctors can't immediately tell what causes it. For now they are calling it SARS—for Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome. Scientists speculate that it may be a bacterium or a virus that has mutated into a new, more virulent form.
—"What Next? Killer Pneumonia," Time, March 24, 2003

Here is how SARS the acronym came about. Three worried officials of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, needed a name for a virus causing sudden deaths in China. The three were Denis Aitken, deputy director general; David Heymann, director of the Communicable Diseases Section; and Richard Thompson, its communications officer. (Presumably, he answers the phone with "Communicable communications here.")

"We wanted a name that would not stigmatize a location," Thompson says, "such as 'the Hanoi Disease.' We first thought of A.P.W.D., or Atypical Pneumonia Without Diagnosis, and I'm glad we dropped that. Then we simply described the disease in another way, and it was in front of us — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS."

But what did they see as the difference between severe and acute?

"I asked this question, too, when we came up with the name. In medicine, severe is 'grave' and acute means 'suddenly.' This respiratory syndrome caused great harm (severe) and had a rapid onset (acute). Later, when we had conclusive evidence that a new coronavirus is the cause of the disease, we named it the SARS virus."
—William Safire, "On Language," The New York Times, May 4, 2003

Example Citation #3 (verb):


For the first couple of weeks, all meetings were canceled. The new verb around the hospital is SARSed, as in: "Oh that meeting isn't happening. It got SARSed."
—Miriam Kaufman, "All Scrubbed Up and Nowhere to Go," The New York Times, April 27, 2003

Earliest Citation:
During the past week, WHO has received reports of more than 150 new suspected cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an atypical pneumonia for which cause has not yet been determined. Reports to date have been received from Canada, China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Early today, an ill passenger and companions who travelled from New York, United States, and who landed in Frankfurt, Germany were removed from their flight and taken to hospital isolation.

Due to the spread of SARS to several countries in a short period of time, the World Health Organization today has issued emergency guidance for travellers and airlines.

"This syndrome, SARS, is now a worldwide health threat," said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organization. "The world needs to work together to find its cause, cure the sick, and stop its spread."
—"World Health Organization issues emergency travel advisory," World Health Organization, March 15, 2003

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