Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck Hong Kong bitterly in the spring of 2003, infecting 1755 persons and claiming nearly 300 lives. The epidemic was introduced by travellers from southern China, where the disease had originated. It started in late February and lasted until early June. Two notable 'super-spreading' events were reported, one inside a teaching hospital and the other in a private housing estate. Other than in the super-spreading events, the infectivity in the community appeared to be low, and there were few, if any, asymptomatic or subclinical infections. Health-care workers were at particular risk and accounted for 22 % of all probable cases. The main modes of transmission were through droplet spread and close/direct contacts, but situations conducive to aerosol generation appeared to be associated with higher risk. Our review suggests that there are still many unknown factors concerning the mode of transmission and environmental risk that need to be clarified.