SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) has been dormant through the summer but probably will re-emerge in the fall and winter. So far, no confirmed cases have been reported since July 2003, when this year's outbreak ended, but health authorities in Hong Kong and China, where most of the cases occurred, are on the lookout. SARS seems to spread by person-to-person contact. The virus that causes it is transmitted by respiratory droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Generally, these droplets can travel only about three feet so you have to be pretty close to a person with SARS to get infected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines the type of close personal contact that might result in SARS infection as kissing, hugging, sharing eating or drinking utensils, talking to someone within three feet, and touching someone directly. It does not include walking by a person or sitting across a waiting room or office for a brief time.
You can become infected if the droplets from a cough or sneeze reach the mucous membranes of your mouth, nose, or eyes or if you touch a surface or object (such as a doorknob or stair railing) contaminated with infectious droplets and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes. Researchers are investigating the possibility that SARS might spread through the air or by some other means, but, so far, have found no evidence that it does.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands frequently, which is always a good idea during cold and flu season (since the bugs that cause these diseases also can spread via infectious droplets deposited on surfaces or objects). Alternatively, you can carry alcohol wipes. I also recommend taking a general multivitamin with antioxidants plus an herbal immune-enhancer such as astragalus, which is nontoxic and has a good track record in warding off viral respiratory infections. As a believer in the immune-enhancing properties of mushrooms, I increased my usual daily dose of a mixed mushroom tonic, Fungi Perfecti's Stamets 7 Mushroom Blend™, last May when I had to travel through the Taipei airport on my way to Okinawa.
Andrew Weil, M.D.