COVID-19 vs. SARS: How the outbreaks compare

SARS and COVID-19 both emerged as new types of coronavirus transmittable to humans, but the illnesses have unique characteristics that coincide with very different global health impacts. 

Here's how SARS and COVID-19 stack up in six main categories:

Note: An asterisk denotes data came from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University's online reporting dashboard and represents figures as of March 26 at 11 a.m. CDT.

Virus identification

SARS: When SARS emerged in China in 2003, researchers and scientists spent weeks trying to identify the new virus. (STAT)

COVID-19: China alerted the World Health Organization about the emerging outbreak in late December 2019. By Jan. 10, researchers had already done a full genetic sequence of the virus and shared this information globally. (STAT)


SARS: The virus that causes this disease, SARS-CoV, was most transmissible at the peak of patients' illness, when most were already hospitalized. (STAT)

COVID-19: The virus responsible for this illness, SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted very early on in infection, sometimes before people develop symptoms. (STAT)

Geographic spread

SARS: 26 countries (World Health Organization)

COVID-19: 175 countries* 

Case count

SARS: 8,096 (WHO)
COVID-19: 492,603*

Death count 

SARS: 774 (WHO)

COVID-19: 22,184*

Case fatality rate

SARS: 9.6 percent (WHO)
COVID-19: Ranges from 0.5 percent in Germany to 9 percent in Italy (STAT, based on deaths from confirmed cases only)

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