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Severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) is a term often used in the context of undifferentiated presentations of severe respiratory illness. As this is common, and bacterial forms are now usually treatable with antibiotics, it is easy to forget that accurate history and consideration of infection control precautions should be in a health care workers mind as this can be the presentation of significant illnesses from the public health perspective such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus and influenza.