Cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) were investigated for SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) through RNA tests, serologic response, and viral culture. Of 537 specimens from patients in whom SARS was clinically diagnosed, 332 (60%) had SARS-CoV RNA in one or more clinical specimens, compared with 1 (0.3%) of 332 samples from controls. Of 417 patients with clinical SARS from whom paired serum samples were available, 92% had an antibody response. Rates of viral RNA positivity increased progressively and peaked at day 11 after onset of illness. Although viral RNA remained detectable in respiratory secretions and stool and urine specimens for >30 days in some patients, virus could not be cultured after week 3 of illness. Nasopharyngeal aspirates, throat swabs, or sputum samples were the most useful clinical specimens in the first 5 days of illness, but later in the illness viral RNA could be detected more readily in stool specimens.
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