While rumors are flying around about a dengue epidemic, a Health Department epidemiologist, Dr. Thomas Morris, said if that’s so, the physicians treating those patients aren’t reporting the cases as required by law.
“I sent surveillance officers out,” he said, indicating that Health is following up to determine if the rumors are true.
Morris said if the numbers he has are correct, the number of cases being reported declined in the last two weeks. He said the last case was reported Sept. 27.
Morris said his Internet was down so he could not get his updated numbers. The Health Department website indicates that as of Sept. 17, there were nine cases on St. Thomas that tested positive with 11 suspected; six cases on St. Croix that tested positive and one suspected case; one suspected case on St. John; and one suspected case from a non-resident. The tally started when hurricane season began in June.
Dr. Randell Nuschke at Red Hook Family Practice said he’s seen “several” a day, but it appears to him that the numbers peaked last week or this week. However, he said, only a “handful” of his patients agree to have their blood tested to confirm they have dengue although they exhibit the symptoms.
Nuschke said none of his patients were hospitalized.
Nuschke said that the patients say that since there’s no cure, they don’t see the point in getting their blood tested.
“I tell people to check in two to three days if they’re not getting better,” Nuschke said.
He said that when blood tests confirm the patient has dengue, that information is forwarded to the Health Department for inclusion in the database. But when a patient exhibits symptoms but is not tested, there is no notation or confirmation of the disease, and thus the department can’t know the actual extent of the problem.
The Health Department currently receives dengue reports via fax, a system Morris is working to change to bring into compliance with Centers for Disease Control standards. The new system will rely on electronic reporting.
“But it’s going to take a long time,” he said.
He said electronic reporting will allow the Health Department to quickly get information to the public when the number of cases increases and where they are located.
While Puerto Rico on Tuesday declared a dengue epidemic, Morris said since there is no historical data, the Virgin Islands can’t set a threshold for epidemics. He said the electronic system will allow a threshold to be developed.
According the Health Department’s website, the best way to cut down the risk of dengue is to reduce the number of mosquitoes by eliminating the places where the mosquito lays eggs. That includes containers that hold water in and around the home. Look for standing water indoors such as in vases with fresh flowers and clean at least once a week.
The adult mosquitoes like to bite inside as well as around homes during the day and at night when the lights are on. To protect yourself, use repellent on your skin while indoors or out. Wear long sleeves and pants for additional protection. Make sure window and door screens are secure and without holes. If available, use air conditioning.
If someone in the house has dengue, take extra precautions to prevent mosquitoes from biting the patient and going on to bite others. Sleep under a mosquito bed net, eliminate mosquitoes you find indoors and wear repellent.