Dr. Joanna Shaw, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Meharry Medical College, was the guest speaker during last week’s Noon Rotary Club meeting. Dr. Shaw has performed original research in the areas of infectious diseases and epidemics.
Shaw said the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus, has been more predominant this year than in years past. Tennessee is still having outbreaks of the flu virus, but most new cases of the flu are in East Tennessee, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Shaw talked about how influenza is spread and how to prevent the virus. She said influenza is very easy to catch and can be passed from person to person by sneezing. According to Shaw, sneeze droplets can spew anywhere from 6 to 20 feet. Coughing and talking can also project saliva.
Shaw said many people catch the flu from someone else in confined spaces, such as an airplane. The flu virus can live on a surface for eight hours or more.
Shaw said millions of people become infected with the flu virus with 3,000 to 50,000 people dying each year. Most people who die from the flu are elderly, which the CDC classifies as anyone over age 65. There have been 87 pediatric deaths in the United States since September 30, 2012 attributed to the flu.
Ways to prevent the spread of the flu are:
• Wash hands or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
• Cover mouth when coughing or sneezing.
• Throw away used Kleenex.
• Stay home when you don’t feel well.
• Stay home from work or school until 24 hours after fever goes away.
• Get the flu vaccination.
Shaw said the vaccine is 99 percent effective in preventing the flu and the CDC considers the vaccine to be the best method for the prevention of influenza.
“People who get the flu are not immune to it. They can still get the flu again if not vaccinated against it,” said Shaw.
When asked about the Norovirus, a virus which causes nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps and can last for several days, Shaw said the Norovirus has been around a long time but was mostly found on cruise ships in years past.
“I’m not sure why we are seeing more of the Norovirus this year. It once was found more in confined areas,” said Shaw.
Shaw said the Norovirus is a self-limiting virus which means it must run its course and is not stopped by medication. She also said the body does not build an immunity to the Norovirus. It is very contagious, spreading easily from one person to another.
People with the Norovirus should stay hydrated by sipping fluids or by sucking on ice chips. Anyone with symptoms lasting more than a day or two should drink beverages that contain electrolytes. Broth-based soups, fruit juices and sports beverages contain both water and electrolytes.