The Department of Health urges citizens to be aware, but not concerned, about the spread of an atypical strain of pneumonia that began in Southeast Asia and possibly could spread to other parts of the world.

The disease, known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), includes symptoms such as coughing, fever and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include headaches, stiff muscles, confusion, rash and diarrhea. Patients appear to contract the disease within three to seven days after exposure.

The disease first appeared in Vietnam in February and also spread to China, where many people fell ill. SARS appears to have spread in Canada, and the Centers for Disease Control is investigating to determine whether Americans who traveled to Southeast Asia may have contracted the disease.

The LDH Office of Public Health Infectious Epidemiology section is investigating a possible case of SARS in the New Orleans area. A couple became ill after returning from a trip to Vietnam March 2. The woman developed a more severe case of respiratory illness than the man. However, she recovered and is doing well. The office still is investigating to determine what caused the illness.

The couple made the trip with three others from different states, and a contact from the epidemiology section has notified the CDC of where these individuals live so an investigation can occur.

The OPH Infectious Epidemiology staff has notified local emergency rooms about possible symptoms of the disease and is investigating the couple’s case as a regular epidemiological investigation. Also, U.S. health officials have urged people to consider postponing trips to affected areas and have issued cards listing possible symptoms of the disease to tourists returning to the United States from Southeast Asia. Returning travelers are urged to seek treatment as soon as possible if they experience any symptoms.

OPH advises anyone experiencing these symptoms to stay at home when the illness begins and to seek treatment at a hospital. As with any illness, people who feel sick should limit their presence in public places to avoid spreading disease.

For more information on SARS and nationwide information, please go to