The Covid-19 pandemic has dominated the traditional and digital media for a few months now. There have been continuing reports about new cases, recoveries and deaths, about vaccines and therapies, and about politicians and scientists putting in their opinions. There have also been comparisons between Covid-19 and SARS, and it’s what we will be looking at now. 

Caused by Coronaviruses

While there are many significant differences between Covid-19 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), there’s a notable similarity. Both are caused by coronavirus and these coronaviruses even share a name, sort of. 

SARS is caused by the coronavirus designated as SARS-CoV. Covid-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2. Despite the shared name, these coronaviruses have many differences. 

But first: What are coronaviruses? These are viruses that belong a single family but they have wide diversity for many reasons. Their hosts include animals and humans with the highest coronavirus diversity being seen in bats. Their name derives from the appearance – spiky projections protruding from their surface look like crowns (“corona” Latin for crown). 

In most cases, human coronaviruses only cause the common cold, among other mild respiratory illnesses. In fact, scientists have identified four types of human coronaviruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections. 

But there are also times when an animal coronavirus has the ability to infect humans and cause diseases in them. This is known as zoonotic transmission and it’s considered as the possibility behind the current pandemic.

While the animal – in this case, scientists believe it’s a species of bat – is fairly immune to the effects of the coronavirus, humans can develop serious health symptoms, even life-threatening ones. The serious illness in humans can be due to a wide range of factors including their lack of immunity to the novel coronavirus.

SARS-CoV-2 isn’t the only virus that causes respiratory illnesses in humans, however. There’s SARS-CoV identified in 2003 and the cause for SARS as well as MERS-CoV, the coronavirus behind the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) identified in 2012.

Transmitted in the Same Manner

Covid-19 and SARS are also transmitted from person to person in the same manner! Both are spread by respiratory droplets that can be picked up, so to speak, by humans in two ways:

  • Through the air, when an infected person coughs or sneezes without proper precautions like covering his mouth
  • Through direct contact with contaminated surfaces and objects

In case of the second mode of transmission, an infected person may have handled the objects or touched the surfaces with his contaminated hands. He may also have coughed or sneezed without covering his mouth and the respiratory droplets landed on the surface or object.

Both the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 and SARS have a similar stability in the air and on objects. In humans, both diseases can cause serious symptoms, even death, and in some cases, require mechanical ventilation or oxygen for the patient. 

These diseases also cause a worsening of the patient’s condition in the late stages. The at-risk groups are also similar, namely, older adults and people with compromised or weakened immune system.

Most important, both Covid-19 and SARS neither have specific treatments nor vaccines. The scientific community, of course, is on the hunt for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine considering that Covid-19 has already taken the lives of thousands of people worldwide. 

Obvious and Not-so-obvious Differences

The symptoms of Covid-19 and SARS have a few differences although their symptoms can be mistaken for each other.  On one hand, the common symptoms of SARS are fever, cough, body aches and pains, headaches, malaise and shortness of breath.  These are similar to symptoms of the common cold and influenza, too. 

On the other hand, Covid-19’s common symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches and pains, sore throat and headaches. Other less common symptoms are nausea, diarrhea, and the loss of sense of taste and smell, and chills with or without recurrent shaking of the body.  Scientists are also discovering new possible symptoms in Covid-19 patients, such as rashes, which are baffling, to say the least. 

As surprising as it sounds, scientists say that SARS cases were more severe than Covid-19 cases, in general. SARS is also deadlier with an estimated mortality rate of 10% while Covid-19’s mortality rate has been estimated at between 0.25% and 3%. 

Indeed, it’s baffling because SARS didn’t cause a pandemic while Covid-19 is still going strong, sadly. The SARS outbreak didn’t lead to lockdowns and quarantines in most parts of the world yet Covid-19 is still doing so.

This is likely because Covid-19 seems to be more easily transmitted between persons. Scientists say that it may be because the viral load, or the amount of virus, are highest in the nose and throat of infected people within a short period after the symptoms develop. In contrast, the SARS’ viral load only peaked in the late stages.

This is a possible indication that people with Covid-19 are likely transmitting the coronavirus much earlier in the course of the disease. They may be transmitting the infection either when they are asymptomatic or just when their symptoms are developing. With little to no precautions made, they are probably spreading the infection to more people albeit unwittingly. 

In contrast, there are no reported SARS transmission before symptoms have developed. 

On the microscopic scale, scientists say that the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to be more closely related to bat coronaviruses than SARS-CoV. Initial studies reveal that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, nonetheless, also point out that it has a 79% genetic similarity to SARS-CoV, thus, their shared name. 

The bottom line: SARS and Covid-19 may have similarities but these diseases should be treated as distinct illnesses.  SARS may have a deadlier risk but it doesn’t spread as easily to other people as Covid-19. SARS also seemed to have been contained well but the world is still reeling from the effects of Covid-19.

We suggest following the guidelines for protecting yourself and your family from Covid-19 even when these get in the way of the enjoyment of your life. These guidelines usually include staying at home as much as possible, wearing face masks in public, and washing and disinfecting your hands regularly.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry in the face of the pandemic. 

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