Dr. Natasha Halasa lays out diarrheal disease challenges and successful treatment strategies

Natasha Halasa, MD, MPH, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) lists the most pressing diarrheal disease challenges and successful treatments to reduce disease burden in patients.

Halasa is a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at VUMC. Her research focuses on determining the burden of diarrheal and respiratory diseases in pediatric and special populations and how to reduce these burdens. Currently, Halasa is the principal investigator (PI) Vanderbilt Site of the New Vaccine Surveillance Network, established by the CDC in 1999 to predict the effects of potential new vaccines.


What do you think are the most pressing challenges in diarrheal disease today, especially for pediatric and special populations?

As part of a new vaccine surveillance network, we conduct acute gastroenteritis surveillance at 7 sites across the United States. For children who vomit within 24 hours or have three loose stools in 24 hours, we approach them and collect their stools. We actually test them for pathogens that cause acute gastroenteritis. Following rotavirus vaccination we found that norovirus was the most common cause of hospitalization in children, often in emergency departments and outpatient settings.

There are still some cases of rotavirus that, if infected, are actually a little more severe than other viruses and pathogens, but the burden is much lower than it was before the advent of the rotavirus vaccine.

Can you share some successful strategies or interventions that you have found to help reduce the burden of diarrheal disease?

Rotavirus vaccine is definitely the most effective way to reduce the burden, especially against rotavirus. In fact, there are very simple ways to reduce the severity of acute gastroenteritis – not necessarily the infection, but once you have it, it can reduce the severity – oral rehydration therapy, and in the United States, intravenous therapy.

Keeping people hydrated can at least reduce the severity of illness and is effective. Norovirus vaccines are in development, so it is hoped that these vaccines will be approved soon to help reduce the disease burden caused by norovirus.

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