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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Keeps an Eye on Puerto Rico Dengue Spike

V.I. Keeps an Eye on Puerto Rico Dengue Spike

While dengue fever recently reached the official epidemic threshold in neighboring Puerto Rico, V.I. Health officials say they are watching the situation closely but are not yet worried about similar outbreaks here during the low season.

Last week, Puerto Rican health officials reported 157 new cases of mosquito-borne dengue after reporting 168 new cases the week before, according to the online journal, Caribbean Business PR.

Not quite ready to call it an epidemic, Puerto Rican officials nevertheless activated an emergency response plan that includes regional medical directors, environmental coordinators, hospitals, clinics and laboratories to improve treatment and detection of dengue, the report said.

Eugene Tull, epidemiologist for the V.I. Department of Health, said he is aware of the spike in Puerto Rican cases, but has not seen any jump in cases in this territory.

“Dengue is endemic in Puerto Rico. They see something like this every few years,” Tull said.

“We just don’t have the type population to create those kinds of numbers,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, you have so many people that it just keeps propagating itself.”

Dengue is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito infected with any one of the four known dengue viruses, three of which have shown up in the Virgin Islands.

Dengue infection can cause high fever, severe headache, and joint and muscle pain. A rash may appear three to four days after the fever begins and nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite are also common. It is rarely fatal.

Tull explained that so many V.I. residents have had one of the four types of dengue already – whether they knew it or not — that they have a built-in a resistance to that type that prevents the spread.

“We’ve already had dengue 1, 2 and 4 here,” Tull said. “Potentially, it could come back. But if it does, it isn’t going to go very far.”

Dengue 3 is the only type not yet seen and the main concern of local health officials watching developments in Puerto Rico. Most people in the Virgin Islands remain susceptible to dengue 3, which is common on Puerto Rico.

The last major outbreak of dengue in the U.S. Virgin Islands was in 2005 — a surge of Dengue 2 that led to the death of a teenager on St. Croix.

After that, the V.I. DOH instituted a Dengue education campaign that is reactivated each year at the onset of hurricane season in June and during the rainy season in October, according to DOH spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster.

“We remind residents to scour their yards for manmade receptacles that could hold stagnant water and serve as breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue,” she said.

Tull said local doctors consistently report any suspected cases on dengue in the territory, making it easy to monitor.

As far as the outbreak in Puerto Rico is concerned, Tull said he will watch whether any new strains emerge there and whether spikes in cases in Puerto Rico correspond with peak travel times between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, especially St. Croix.

Health officials say people help spread dengue by giving mosquitoes good places to breed and thrive. Abandoned tires, buckets and other open containers that can hold standing water provide a breeding ground for the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Once the mosquitoes are born, they then live inside houses where they can bite many times. At night they hide in closets and showers and other dark places and can travel from house to house, biting and infecting the residents along the way.

Residents are advised to fix screens, spray closets, keep containers dry and eliminate stagnant water around homes.

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