Infectious Disease | St. Louis Public Radio

Infectious Disease

St. Louis Fire Department paramedic Andrew Beasley wears a mask, gloves and a gown as he disinfects the back of an ambulance with a bleach mix, after delivering a patient to Barnes-Jewish Hospital on March 16, 2020.
File Photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

More than 1,000 people in Missouri have died from COVID-19, according to data analyzed by St. Louis Public Radio. The state reached that grim milestone earlier this week, three months after the first person in the state died from the disease.

“Any number is significant, but it’s a sign we’re truly in a pandemic situation with 1,000 deaths,” said Dr. Bill Powderly, infectious disease chief at Washington University and director of the school’s Institute for Public Health. He said the country is still in the “first wave” of the virus. 

“We’re still in the phase where it could rapidly flare up again if we don’t remain vigilant,” he said.

Coronavirus In St. Louis: You Ask, We Answer

May 4, 2020
The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 4 with more answers to audience questions

Coronavirus has disrupted many aspects of everyday life. Sporting events are postponed, businesses are closed and schools are empty as the region feels the impact of the pandemic. All of the changes lead to understandable confusion among residents in Missouri and Illinois.

SSM Health President and CEO Laura Kaiser addresses reporters March 13 while St. Louis County Executive Sam Page looks on. Regional leaders announced restaurants will be limited to takeout, curbside and delivery orders.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, with more comments from officials and restaurant owners

Starting at the end of the day Thursday, restaurants and bars in most of the St. Louis region will only be able to offer takeout or delivery as leaders attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Officials of the city of St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles and Franklin counties made the joint announcement Tuesday to shut dine-in service in restaurants and bars and enforce social distancing at all businesses. Officials in Jefferson County did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they would implement similar restrictions.

Schools across the St. Louis region will close to prevent exposure and spread of coronavirus.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:50 p.m. March 15, with comments from school and county officials

Dozens of school districts across the St. Louis region will close this week in an extraordinary move to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. 

Districts in St. Louis city and St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties plan to remain closed through early April and could decide to extend the break further.

The closures affect more than 40 districts in Missouri, including St. Louis’ charter schools. All public and Catholic school districts in St. Louis city and county announced Sunday night that they plan to close on Wednesday. Public schools will be closed starting Monday in St. Charles County and Wednesday in Jefferson County. 

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announces the state's first case of COVID-19 in St. Louis County on March 8, 2020.
Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 8 p.m. March 10 with confirmation from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tuesday that a 20-year-old woman in St. Louis County has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus. 

Original story from March 8:

A 20-year-old St. Louis County woman who was studying in Italy is now presumed to be the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus.

Gov. Mike Parson and other officials announced late Saturday that the woman is in isolation at home with members of her family, who also have been in isolation.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says the woman took care to keep others from contracting the virus once she started feeling sick. She called the county coronavirus hotline, and local health officials told her she met the criteria for testing.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks with St. Louis Public Radio in downtown St. Louis on Nov. 14, 2019.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri is prepared for the coronavirus that is spreading across the U.S., health officials said Monday.

Gov. Mike Parson said state officials are working with federal and local health departments to track the disease it causes, COVID-19. He expects the federal government will soon distribute money to help the state provide free tests and make other preparations.

“Right now, our main focus is on educating the public on the virus and the steps to prevent it,” Parson said. “We are very well prepared to handle this virus should the need arise.”

St. Louis Health Director Dr. Fred Echols addresses media on Feb. 28, 2020. Echols says although there are no coronavirus cases in Missouri, residents should be prepared to prevent the virus.
File photo | Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis-area health officials say they expect to see the new coronavirus arrive in St. Louis, and they want residents to be prepared. 

At a press conference Friday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said that the respiratory disease's arrival in the Midwest was not a question of "if" but of "when."

“We know how epidemics travel, those models are predictable,” said Page, a doctor. “It will be in our community at some point, and we will be prepared to treat it.”

A scanning electron microscope image shows the novel coronavirus (yellow) against human cells (pink.) 2-27-20

Missouri health officials are taking steps to protect people against the potential spread of the new coronavirus that has sickened thousands in China.

There haven’t been any recorded cases in Missouri and only two in Illinois. But health systems are asking people more questions and creating plans to respond to any potentially infectious patients who come through their doors.

“Our motto is, ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,’” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “In our case, we would much rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.”

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz / U.S. Air Force

The St. Louis Department of Health is urging people to receive a measles shot before the busy summer travel season begins.

The U.S. largely eradicated measles decades ago thanks to effective immunizations, but the disease has had a resurgence of recent years as more people choose to not vaccinate their children.

Many of the outbreaks nationwide this year have occurred after people have traveled to countries where the disease is more common and spread it to under-vaccinated communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz / U.S. Air Force

Health officials in Jefferson County are trying to find people who may have come in contact with a person there who has caught measles.

The person caught the virus after traveling, according to officials at the Jefferson County Health Department. The department is “working directly with the case to identify potential contacts and make arrangements for follow up immunizations and care if necessary,” officials said in a release.

Measles infects the respiratory system and can cause deafness, blindness and can even be fatal in some rare cases. People who contract the measles develop a distinctive red, splotchy rash over their bodies. There is no specific antiviral treatment or medicine for measles, but giving a person a vaccine soon after they’ve been infected may lessen symptoms.

Dominic Alves | Flickr

Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis has cut testing for urinary tract infections nearly in half after making changes to its electronic health records system.

The hospital did so by making a simple switch: it changed the order in which it conducted tests for the infections. Physicians are now directed to order a dipstick urine test before a bacterial culture to test for an infection. The change cut the number of unnecessary tests by 45 percent. Barnes officials say that saved the hospital nearly $100,000 in lab costs and cut down on unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

The results show that changing how tests are ordered electronically can influence patient care, said David Warren, the hospital’s medical director for infection prevention.


The rare Bourbon virus could be in the St. Louis region, state health officials say.

A patient with symptoms matching the virus was bitten by a tick recently in the southwest part of St. Louis County, but has recovered.

The announcement from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services indicates the sometimes-deadly virus could be spreading through the state, experts said.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito feasts on the blood of CDC photographer James Gathany. Aedes aegypti is the type of mosquito most likely to carry Zika and other tropical diseases.
James Gathany | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The breed of mosquito most likely to carry the Zika virus probably won’t make its way to St. Louis this summer, but local public health agencies are still taking precautions.

New genetic test can detect almost any human virus

Oct 5, 2015
This colorized scanning electron micrograph image shows filamentous Ebola virus particles (shown in blue) infecting a cell (shown in yellow-green).
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH

Scientists at Washington University have developed a genetic test that can be used to detect practically any virus known to infect humans.

It could be especially useful for quickly identifying the cause of deadly disease outbreaks or helping a patient whose disease has eluded diagnosis.

Potential Ebola Case Tests Negative, Returns Home

Nov 23, 2014
The Ebola virus, shown through transmission electron micrograph.

A female nurse who was admitted to Mercy Hospital Jefferson with a fever after returning from Liberia has returned home, officials confirmed Saturday night. 

Patient Tests Negative For Ebola In Jefferson County

Nov 20, 2014
The Ebola virus, shown through transmission electron micrograph.

Updated at 6:40 p.m.

A Jefferson County woman who was showing symptoms of Ebola has initially tested negative for the virus at Mercy Hospital in Crystal City. As a precautionary measure, officials said she will remain in an isolation room for treatment and will be monitored according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Wash U Center Aims To Increase Collaboration On Global Health

Apr 12, 2013
Gary Weil/Washington University School of Medicine

Researchers from all over the world are gathering today at Washington University for a conference on global health.

The event is the first to be organized by the university’s recently-created Center for Global Health and Infectious Disease. St. Louis Public Radio’s Véronique LaCapra spoke with the Center’s director Bill Powderly about its mission.