Objective. An outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) occurred in the greater Toronto area between February and June 2003. We describe the clinical, laboratory, and epidemiologic features of children who were admitted to the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, with a presumptive diagnosis of suspect or probable SARS.

Methods. A prospective investigational study protocol was established for the management of children with a presumptive diagnosis of suspect or probable SARS. All were ultimately classified as having probable SARS, suspect SARS, or another cause on the basis of their epidemiologic exposure, clinical and radiologic features, and results of microbiologic investigations.

Results. Twenty-five children were included; 10 were classified as probable SARS and 5 were classified as suspect SARS, and in 10 another cause was identified. The exposure consisted of direct contact with at least 1 adult probable SARS case in 11 children, travel from a World Health Organization-designated affected area in Asia in 9 children, and presence in a Toronto area hospital in which secondary SARS spread had occurred in 5 children. The predominant clinical manifestations of probable cases were fever, cough, and rhinorrhea. With the exception of 1 teenager, none of the children developed respiratory distress or an oxygen requirement, and all made full recoveries. Mild focal alveolar infiltrates were the predominant chest radiograph abnormality. Lymphopenia; neutropenia; thrombocytopenia; and elevated alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, and creatine kinase were present in some cases. Nasopharyngeal swab specimens were negative for the SARS-associated coronavirus by an in-house reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction in all 25 children.

Conclusions. Our results indicate that SARS is a relatively mild and nonspecific respiratory illness in previously healthy young children. The presence of fever in conjunction with a SARS exposure history should prompt one to consider SARS as a possible diagnosis in children irrespective of the presence or absence of respiratory symptoms. Reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction analysis of nasopharyngeal specimens seems to be of little utility for the diagnosis of SARS during the early symptomatic phase of this illness in young children.

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