Offficials: Worry about flu, not coronavirus 

Flu A and B are spreading througout Shelby County and lilekly will until late April.

If you tuned into Memphis social media last week, you may have wondered if coronavirus had spread to the confines of the Walter L. Bailey Jr. Criminal Justice Center at 201 Poplar.

The virus, sometimes called novel coronavirus or the Wuhan virus, had killed 362 and infected 17,300 across the globe as of Monday morning. In about two months, the virus — first found in the Chinese city of Wuhan — has killed more people than the nine-month SARS outbreak in 2003.

The virus has been confirmed in 25 countries and in five American states — Washington, California, Massachussetts, Illinois, and Arizona. A patient in Arkansas was tested for the virus and held in medical isolation last week but ultimately tested negative for the disease.

click to enlarge Officials: not too late to get flu shot
  • Officials: not too late to get flu shot

Health officials in Tennessee are getting regular guidance on the virus from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). So far, no patient in the state has been confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to state officials and the CDC. Still, that didn't stop some locals from saying otherwise last week.

"Still awaiting confirmation, I've been hung up on twice: a case of the Wuhan coronavirus has been found in the 201 Poplar Ave. Memphis jail," Yvette d'Entremont tweeted last Thursday. "Again, can't get someone official on the phone to confirm, it was a solid tip."

But that confirmation would not come, not from the Shelby County Health Department.

"That is absolutely not true," said Joan Carr, the department's public information officer. "There are no coronavirus cases or suspect cases in Memphis or specifically 201 Poplar."

Carr said the respiratory virus Memphians should be concerned about is the regular, seasonal flu. Two types of flu — Flu A and Flu B — are circulating in Shelby County. So far this flu season, the virus has killed eight children in Tennessee and sent thousands to area hospitals.

Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, said 22 percent of all visits to area emergency rooms on Christmas Day were for flu-like symptoms. That figure remains at around 14 percent now.

"The most important thing to keep in mind is that the flu is actually the No. 1 leading cause of death for vaccine-preventable deaths," said Haushalter. "So, while we focus on coronavirus and all these other emerging diseases, people are more likely to contract and die from the flu."

The flu vaccine is available for free at health department clinics and many other clinics around Memphis. The flu season won't end until late April or the beginning of May, said Haushalter, and it is not too late to get a shot. The flu can be very serious for children or anyone with a chronic illness, and the flu "is particularly hard on our seniors."

"The main reason we should get a flu vaccine is not just to protect ourselves, but actually to protect those other populations and high-risk individuals," Haushalter said.

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