SARS protection face mask. Woman wearing a face mask to protect her against airborne viruses, such as SARS. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is a lung disease that first appeared in China in late 2002, and spread worldwide through air travel. It is spread by the inhalation of airborne water droplets that contain the causative virus, a type of coronavirus. Other coronaviruses cause the common cold and a form of gastroenteritis. The face mask absorbs airborne water droplets, preventing the inhalation of the virus particles. The mask does not provide complete immunity, however. SARS is thought to be fatal in around 5% of cases.
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