Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2): Infectious substances Pathogen Safety Data Sheet 

Section I: Infectious agent


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2)

Agent type








Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus

Subspecies/strain/clonal isolate


Synonym or cross reference

Formerly known as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV); also referred to as the virus responsible for COVID-19 or the COVID-19 virus


Brief description

SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA virusFootnote 1. Virions range in size from 60 to 140 nm Footnote 2. Coronavirus virions have distinctive club-shaped spikes on their surface, which give the virions the appearance of a solar corona, hence the viral family nameFootnote 3.

The SARS-CoV-2 genome varies in size from 29.8 kB to 29.9 kB and has 12 open reading frames, which encode 27 proteins including four structural proteins: the surface/spike (S) protein for binding to the ACE2 receptor on the host cell, the envelope (E) protein, the membrane (M) glycoprotein, and the nucleocapsid (N) phosphoproteinFootnote 4. Two SARS-CoV-2 proteases are critical for virus replicationFootnote 5.

Section II: Hazard identification

Pathogenicity and toxicity

COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, may range in severity from asymptomatic to fatalFootnote 6. It is estimated that approximately one quarter to one third of SARS-CoV-2 infections are asymptomaticFootnote 7Footnote 8. Children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age are often asymptomatic, and when symptomatic, usually have fewer and milder symptoms compared to adults >25 years old Footnote 9. Although the risk of severe COVID-19 disease and death increases with age, asymptomatic infection is common in the elderlyFootnote 10Footnote 11.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include chills, fever, new or worsening cough, fatigue, myalgia, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting and diarrhea)Footnote 12. Less frequent symptoms include shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, sore throat, and loss of smell and/or taste. Some individuals may experience rare symptoms such as skin and/or eye manifestations. SARS-CoV-2 may also impact organ systems besides the respiratory system to cause a multitude of extrapulmonary symptoms that may result in fatal extrapulmonary complicationsFootnote 13Footnote 14. These non-respiratory systems include the cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, hepatobiliary, endocrine, nervous, integumentary, and hematological and immune systems.

SARS-CoV-2 infection, in certain cases, can also cause multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare, sometimes fatal, post-infectious condition with features of toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki diseaseFootnote 15. A similar syndrome, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in adults (MIS-A), has also been describedFootnote 16. Both syndromes typically occur two to six weeks following the onset of typical COVID-19 symptomsFootnote 15Footnote 16.

Another type of syndrome that may develop after the acute phase of illness is 'long COVID', also known as 'post-COVID-19 condition' and 'post-acute COVID-19 syndrome'Footnote 17Footnote 18. This syndrome usually occurs 3 months after the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms lasting for at least 2 monthsFootnote 17. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to, fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction, which can impact everyday functioning.

COVID-19 mortality rates vary widely by country for reasons including differences in population demographics, health care capacity, and the effectiveness of the public health interventions implemented to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmissionFootnote 19. Global SARS-CoV-2 mortality analyses, including case fatality rates, which vary nationally from 0.1 to 19.6%, are available on the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Centre's Mortality Analyses web page.

SARS-CoV-2 can infect a range of animal species with disease severity ranging from asymptomatic to fatal. Outbreaks in farmed mink, an economically important animal, have occurred in Canada, the US and in multiple European countriesFootnote 20Footnote 21. Disease severity ranges from asymptomatic to fatal in infected mink. Clinical disease in infected dogs, domestic cats, and big cats in zoos also ranges from asymptomatic to symptomatic with respiratory and/or digestive symptomsFootnote 22Footnote 23. Furthermore, mild respiratory symptoms have been reported in infected zoo gorillasFootnote 24. In addition, infected pet ferrets have been reported to be either asymptomatic, or to have mild or severe gastrointestinal symptomsFootnote 25Footnote 26Footnote 27.

Predisposing factors

Advanced age is a risk factor for severe diseaseFootnote 10Footnote 28Footnote 29. The risk of severe illness increases for people in their 50s and older, with those 85 years of age and older at the greatest risk of severe illnessFootnote 29. Medical conditions that can also increase the risk of severe disease include asthma (moderate to severe) and/or other chronic lung diseases, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Down syndrome, epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, dementia or other neurological disease, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, stroke or cerebrovascular disease, thalassemia, a history of smoking, substance use disorders, and being immunosuppressed/immunodeficientFootnote 12.

In mink, pregnancy, advanced age, and breed may increase the risk of severe diseaseFootnote 30Footnote 31Footnote 32.


SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus that is transmitted by respiratory droplets and aerosolsFootnote 33. Infectious virus can be transmitted by inhaling respiratory droplets and/or aerosols; aerosols may remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours. Alternatively, respiratory droplets and/or aerosols may be deposited directly onto exposed mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes by direct splashes or sprays such as those produced by coughing. Finally, respiratory droplets and/or aerosols may be deposited onto inanimate objects, which act as fomites. However, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by fomites is considered to be lowFootnote 34.

Furthermore, infectious virus has been detected in urine and feces, suggesting that these can transmit infectionFootnote 35Footnote 36. In addition, epidemiological studies have concluded that SARS-CoV-2 may be transmitted via contaminated sewage, and by contaminated bioaerosols produced by plumbing connecting apartmentsFootnote 37Footnote 38Footnote 39.

Vertical transmission from mother to fetus/infant is considered possible although most cases of neonatal infection appear to occur post-partumFootnote 40.

SARS-CoV-2 infection may be transmitted by pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, although the extent to which such individuals transmit compared to symptomatic individuals is unknownFootnote 41.

Furthermore, animal-to-animal transmission has been documented under experimental conditions for some species such as ferrets, hamsters, cats and batsFootnote 42Footnote 43. Furthermore, white-tailed deer appear to transmit to each other in the wildFootnote 44.


In early January 2020, Chinese authorities announced that they had identified a novel coronavirus as the cause of unexplained cases of viral pneumonia first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, ChinaFootnote 45. Chinese authorities subsequently reported human-to-human transmission of this virus in Wuhan (in the province of Hubei), outside of Wuhan, and in some clusters outside of HubeiFootnote 46. On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee agreed that the outbreak met the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern given that the virus had spread to 18 other countries in which human-to-human transmission was occurring in some. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak a pandemicFootnote 45. SARS-CoV-2 would eventually spread to most countries, with catastrophic public health and economic consequences. Global statistics for confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and deaths are available on the WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard.

Host range

Natural host(s)

Humans are the primary SARS-CoV-2 hostFootnote 47.

Other host(s)

Naturally-occurring infections have been reported in multiple feline species, pet dogs and ferrets, mink (farmed and wild), otters, beavers, white-tailed deer, hyenas, coatimundi, and gorillasFootnote 44Footnote 48Footnote 49Footnote 50Footnote 51Footnote 52.

Various mammalian species have been experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2. Susceptible species, which support varying degrees of viral replication and experience varying degrees of disease severity, include non-human primates, small animal species often used in experimental studies of respiratory viruses (e.g., ferrets and hamsters), companion animals (e.g., cats), and various wild animal species (e.g., bank voles and fruit bats)Footnote 42Footnote 43Footnote 53.

Infectious dose

The human infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 is unknownFootnote 54. Based on non-human primate research, the best estimate of the human infectious dose via the inhalation route is 36-179 viral particles (plaque forming units).

Incubation period

The estimated incubation period ranges from 2-14 days, with a median of 5-6 days from exposure to symptom onsetFootnote 12. However, in some individuals, especially the elderly, the incubation period may be longerFootnote 55. Nonetheless, the majority of individuals who do become symptomatic will do so by 11.5 days post-infectionFootnote 12.

Section III: Dissemination


The original animal reservoir(s) that may have been responsible for transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to humans is unknownFootnote 56.

Zoonosis/Reverse zoonosis

Zoonotic transmission from farmed mink to humans has been reported in the Netherlands and DenmarkFootnote 57Footnote 58.

Reverse zoonotic transmission has occurred in multiple feline species, pet dogs and ferrets, mink (farmed and wild), otters, beavers, white-tailed deer, hyenas, coatimundi, and gorillas, following known or suspected contact with infected humansFootnote 44Footnote 48Footnote 49Footnote 50Footnote 51Footnote 52.


None confirmed to date.

Section IV: Stability and viability

Drug susceptibility

Multiple antivirals and anti-SARS-CoV-2 spike protein monoclonal antibodies have been authorized for the treatment of COVID-19. Health Canada has summarized complete list of authorized drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 in Canada.

Drug resistance

SARS-CoV-2 has continued to evolve since its identification in January 2020, acquiring mutations that have at least somewhat reduced the effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies created against early viral spike protein sequencesFootnote 59Footnote 60. Viral variants with mutations that reduce vaccine and/or drug effectiveness are referred to as 'Variants of Concern'.

Susceptibility to disinfectants

SARS-CoV-2 is susceptible to disinfectants having proven activity against enveloped virusesFootnote 61. These disinfectants include sodium hypochlorite, i.e., bleach (1 000 parts per million [0.1%] for general surface disinfection, and 10 000 parts per million [1%] for disinfection of sample spills), 70% ethanol, 7.5% povidone‐iodine, 0.05% chloroxylenol, 0.05% chlorhexidine, and 0.1% benzalkonium chloride.

Furthermore, methanol (100% and ice-cold) and paraformaldehyde (4%) can inactivate virus in infected cellsFootnote 62.

Health Canada has published a list of hard-surface disinfectants with evidence for use against COVID-19.

Physical inactivation

SARS-CoV-2 can be inactivated by heating for 15 to 30 minutes at 56°C, 10 to 15 minutes at 60oC to 65°C, and 2 minutes at 98°CFootnote 63. Furthermore, SARS-CoV-2 loses infectivity within 1 day at pH extremes of pH 2–3 and pH 11–12Footnote 64. SARS-CoV-2 can also be inactivated by exposure to simulated sunlight representing natural sunlight (ultraviolet [UV] range of 280–400 nm), UVB radiation (280–315 nm), UVC radiation of different wavelengths (i.e., 254 nm or 200–280 nm), gamma radiation (1 Mrad), a deep ultraviolet light-emitting diode (DUV-LED; 280 ± 5 nm), cold atmospheric plasma with argon feed gas, and gaseous ozoneFootnote 65Footnote 66Footnote 67Footnote 68Footnote 69Footnote 70Footnote 71Footnote 72.

Survival outside host

Studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 can survive for extended periods at room temperature on different types of surfaces including vinyl, steel, glass, paper and polymer banknotes (up to 28 days); cotton cloth (up to 14 days); polymer surfaces (up to 13 days); plastic, face masks and latex gloves (up to 7 days); and cardboard and wood (up to 2 days)Footnote 73Footnote 74. The available data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 is the most resistant human coronavirusFootnote 74.

Under experimental conditions, SARS-COV-2 was also shown to survive in some biological fluids (i.e., nasal mucus, sputum, saliva, tears, blood, or semen), from one to three days at 25°C/70% relative humidity (RH), for seven days at 21°C/60% RH, and for 21 days at 5°C/75% RH, but was unstable in human feces, fecal suspension, and breastmilkFootnote 75.

When aerosolized, SARS-CoV-2 can be viable for at least three hoursFootnote 76.

Section V: First aid/medical


Although viral sequencing is the most definitive method for diagnosing SARS-CoV-2 infection, the cost and technical requirements of this technique limit its feasibilityFootnote 77. As such, the gold standard for detecting SARS-CoV-2 is the reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay, which detects viral ribonucleic acid. The RT-LAMP (RT-loop mediated isothermal amplification) assay may also be used to detect viral nucleic acid. The detection of viral antigens in clinical samples can also be used for diagnosis. Virus may also be detected in tissue samples by in situ hybridization or immunohistochemistry.

Note: The specific recommendations for surveillance in the laboratory should come from the medical surveillance program, which is based on a local risk assessment of the pathogens and activities being undertaken, as well as an overarching risk assessment of the biosafety program as a whole. More information on medical surveillance is available in the Canadian Biosafety Handbook (Canadian Biosafety Handbook).

First aid/treatment

COVID-19 treatment guidelines are evolving. Treatment may include the antiviral remdesivir, oxygen therapy, airway management, steroids, and the management of septic shock, depending on disease severity, in addition to the management of co-infectionsFootnote 78. More information can be found on the WHO living guidance for the clinical management of COVID-19 and the WHO living guideline for COVID-19 therapeutics.

SARS-CoV-2-infected pets usually have mild respiratory and/or digestive symptoms, which resolve with supportive careFootnote 79. In the case of infected farmed mink, mass culling may be performed depending on the national or regional capacity to contain the outbreak and manage risks using less severe approachesFootnote 80.

Note: The specific recommendations for first aid/treatment in the laboratory should come from the post-exposure response plan, which is developed as part of the medical surveillance program. More information on the post-exposure response plan can be found in the Canadian Biosafety Handbook.


Multiple COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for the active immunization of the general population, as summarized on the COVID-19 vaccine tracker.

Veterinarian vaccines, including Carnivac-Cov and FurcoVac, have been authorized for use in various countriesFootnote 81Footnote 82Footnote 83Footnote 84.

Note: More information on the medical surveillance program can be found in the Canadian Biosafety Handbook, and by consulting the Canadian Immunization Guide.


Pre-exposure prophylaxis consisting of a monoclonal antibody cocktail specific for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein has been authorized in some jurisdictions for moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals who may not respond adequately to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and for individuals for whom such vaccines are contraindicatedFootnote 85Footnote 86.

There are currently no post-exposure prophylaxis measures.

Note: More information on prophylaxis as part of the medical surveillance program can be found in the Canadian Biosafety Handbook.

Section VI: Laboratory hazards

Laboratory-acquired infections

At this time, there are no reported cases of laboratory-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Note: Please consult the Canadian Biosafety Standard and Canadian Biosafety Handbook for additional details on requirements for reporting exposure incidents. A Canadian Biosafety Guideline describing notification and reporting procedures is also available.


Diagnostic samples typically include respiratory samples such as nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal, or nasal swabs, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, saliva, or sputum; however, stool, urine, serum, blood and tissue samples may also be usedFootnote 77.

Primary hazards

Inhalation of infectious material or exposure of mucous membranes to infectious material Footnote 33

Special hazards

It has been suggested that SARS-CoV-2 could survive in the liquid nitrogen and/or in the nitrogen vapours routinely used to cryopreserve biological samples, possibly resulting in sample cross-contamination, and/or in the infection of laboratory workersFootnote 87Footnote 88.

Since the SARS-CoV-2 genome, which consists of positive-stranded RNA, is considered infectious, activities with intact genomic RNA pose a risk of infection, despite the absence of infectious virionsFootnote 89.

Section VII: Exposure controls/personal protection

Risk group classification

SARS-CoV-2 is a Risk Group 3 human pathogen and Risk Group 2 animal pathogen. Single-stranded RNA is a Risk Group 2 biological agent for humans and a Risk Group 1 biological agent for animals.

Containment requirements

Containment Level 3 facilities, equipment, and operational practices outlined in the Canadian Biosafety Standard and in the Biosafety advisory: SARS-CoV-2 (Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) for all in vivo and in vitro activities. Non-propagative diagnostic or clinical activities can be conducted at containment level 2 with additional requirements, as specified in the Biosafety advisory: SARS-CoV-2 (Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2).

Section VIII: Handling and storage


Allow aerosols to settle. Wearing protective clothing, gently cover the spill with absorbent paper towel and apply suitable disinfectant, starting at the perimeter and working towards the centre. Allow sufficient contact time before clean up (Canadian Biosafety Handbook).


All materials/substances that have come in contact with the infectious agent must be completely decontaminated before they are removed from the containment zone. This can be achieved by using a decontamination method that has been demonstrated to be effective against the infectious material, such as chemical disinfectants, autoclaving, irradiation, incineration, an effluent treatment system, or gaseous decontamination (Canadian Biosafety Handbook).


The applicable Containment Level 3 requirements for storage outlined in the Canadian Biosafety Standard to be followed. Containers of infectious material or toxins stored outside the containment zone should be labelled, leakproof, impact resistant, and kept either in locked storage equipment or within an area with limited access.

Section IX: Regulatory and other information

Canadian regulatory context

Controlled activities with SARS-CoV-2 require a Human Pathogens and Toxins Licence issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada. SARS-CoV-2 is not a reportable/notifiable animal disease. However, individuals are asked to immediately notify the CFIA if SARS-CoV-2 is detected in an animal. The following is a non-exhaustive list of applicable designations, regulation, or legislation:


December, 2021

Prepared by

Centre for Biosecurity, Public Health Agency of Canada.


The scientific information, opinions, and recommendations contained in this Pathogen Safety Data Sheet have been developed based on or compiled from trusted sources available at the time of publication. Newly discovered hazards are frequent and this information may not be completely up to date. The Government of Canada accepts no responsibility for the accuracy, sufficiency, or reliability or for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information.

Persons in Canada are responsible for complying with the relevant laws, including regulations, guidelines and standards applicable to the import, transport, and use of pathogens in Canada set by relevant regulatory authorities, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Transport Canada. The risk classification and related regulatory requirements referenced in this Pathogen Safety Data Sheet, such as those found in the Canadian Biosecurity Standard, may be incomplete and are specific to the Canadian context. Other jurisdictions will have their own requirements.

Copyright©Public Health Agency of Canada, 2021, Canada


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Footnote 10

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Footnote 11

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Footnote 12

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Footnote 13

Gupta, A., M. V. Madhavan, K. Sehgal, N. Nair, S. Mahajan, T. S. Sehrawat, B. Bikdeli, N. Ahluwalia, J. C. Ausiello, E. Y. Wan, D. E. Freedberg, A. J. Kirtane, S. A. Parikh, M. S. Maurer, A. S. Nordvig, D. Accili, J. M. Bathon, S. Mohan, K. A. Bauer, M. B. Leon, H. M. Krumholz, N. Uriel, M. R. Mehra, M. S. V. Elkind, G. W. Stone, A. Schwartz, D. D. Ho, J. P. Bilezikian, and D. W. Landry. 2020. Extrapulmonary manifestations of COVID-19. Nat. Med. 26:1017-1032.

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Footnote 14

Zheng, K. I., G. Feng, W. Y. Liu, G. Targher, C. D. Byrne, and M. H. Zheng. 2021. Extrapulmonary complications of COVID-19: A multisystem disease? J. Med. Virol. 93:323-335.

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Footnote 15

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Footnote 16

Patel, P., J. DeCuir, J. Abrams, A. P. Campbell, S. Godfred-Cato, and E. D. Belay. 2021. Clinical Characteristics of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Adults: A Systematic Review. JAMA Netw. Open. 4:e2126456.

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Footnote 17

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Footnote 19

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Footnote 20

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Footnote 21

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Footnote 22

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Footnote 23

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Footnote 24

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Footnote 25

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Footnote 26

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Footnote 27

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Footnote 28

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Footnote 29

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Footnote 30

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Footnote 31

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Footnote 32

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Footnote 33

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 7, 2021. Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 Transmission.

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Footnote 34

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Apr. 5, 2021. Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments.

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Footnote 35

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Footnote 36

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Footnote 37

Lin, G., S. Zhang, Y. Zhong, L. Zhang, S. Ai, K. Li, W. Su, L. Cao, Y. Zhao, F. Tian, J. Li, Y. Wu, C. Guo, R. Peng, X. Wu, P. Gan, W. Zhu, H. Lin, and Z. Zhang. 2021. Community evidence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission through air. Atmos. Environ. (1994). 246:118083.

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Footnote 38

Kang, M., J. Wei, J. Yuan, J. Guo, Y. Zhang, J. Hang, Y. Qu, H. Qian, Y. Zhuang, X. Chen, X. Peng, T. Shi, J. Wang, J. Wu, T. Song, J. He, Y. Li, and N. Zhong. 2020. Probable Evidence of Fecal Aerosol Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a High-Rise Building. Ann. Intern. Med. 173:974-980.

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Footnote 39

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