To determine factors that predispose or protect healthcare workers from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), we conducted a retrospective cohort study among 43 nurses who worked in two Toronto critical care units with SARS patients. Eight of 32 nurses who entered a SARS patient's room were infected. The probability of SARS infection was 6% per shift worked. Assisting during intubation, suctioning before intubation, and manipulating the oxygen mask were high-risk activities. Consistently wearing a mask (either surgical or particulate respirator type N95) while caring for a SARS patient was protective for the nurses, and consistent use of the N95 mask was more protective than not wearing a mask. Risk was reduced by consistent use of a surgical mask, but not significantly. Risk was lower with consistent use of a N95 mask than with consistent use of a surgical mask. We conclude that activities related to intubation increase SARS risk and use of a mask (particularly a N95 mask) is protective.