Will a chest X-ray help discover SARS?

If you suspect that you have severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) seek immediate medical attention. Common symptoms are flu-like and include fever, chills, muscle aches, coughing and headaches. Your doctor will likely listen to your breathing through a stethoscope. If you have SARS, your doctor will hear abnormal lung sounds, and he or she will subsequently order a chest X-ray to confirm the presence of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome.

SARS-infected lungs typically present with small or large patchy shadows in both lungs on a chest X-ray. In fact, one research study found that 31 of 52 clinical SARS cases showed this pattern. Another 18 clinical SARS cases had small or large patchy shadows in one lung or a segment of lung. The researchers concluded that a chest X-ray is a sensitive and specific method for SARS testing and diagnosis. A person infected with SARS should have a chest X-ray every one to three days to monitor progress or decline.

A chest X-ray alone cannot reliably diagnose SARS; your doctor will probably do a thorough medical history, including a review of your symptoms and any other pre-existing medical conditions. Your doctor may order blood tests that assess blood clotting; ALT and CPK levels, which tend to be high in people with SARS; and potassium and sodium levels, which tend to be low. Your doctor will also likely assess your white blood cell count, your lymphocyte count, and your platelet count, all of which tend to be low if you have SARS. Finally, a specific SARS test, called the PCR test, determines if you have SARS antibodies in your system.