On Tuesday afternoon the Virgin Islands Department of Health announced that the territory is simultaneously facing two mosquito-borne tropical diseases. It confirmed additional cases of Zika virus and the first new cases of dengue in more than a year.
To date there have been a total of four confirmed cases of Zika in the territory. Three new cases of dengue have been confirmed on St. Croix, which are the first cases since the last outbreak ended.
According to Esther Ellis, territorial epidemiologist, it’s unknown whether or not people can get Zika and dengue at the same time and what type of health complications having both could potentially cause.
Though the aedes aegypti mosquito species carries Zika, dengue and chikungunya, Ellis said that it’s uncertain whether it can carry more than one disease at a time.
Ellis added that Puerto Rico is also reporting low levels of dengue transmission.
The territory is sending blood samples to the Centers for Disease Control lab in Fort Collins, Colo., on a daily basis to test each for Zika, dengue and chikungunya.
Due to a surge in demand on this lab, given it’s the only one in the country that can do confirmatory testing, results are taking between three and four weeks to receive instead of the formerly expected two.
Dan Baden, a physician for CDC’s Zika Response Team based on St. Croix, explained that the timeframe for receiving results has increased since there’s been a major uptick in sampling now that the CDC is urging both asymptomatic pregnant women and symptomatic patients to be tested.
A total of 63 samples have been sent from the territory for testing with 35 coming from St. Croix, 27 from St. Thomas and one from St. John. There are 56 suspected cases with pending results at this time.
The V.I. Department of Health will distribute weekly surveillance reports every Tuesday. Local health officials expect more positive cases of both Zika and dengue in the future as results come back from the CDC lab.
According to a press release from Health, patients with suspected Zika virus infections should also be evaluated for dengue and chikungunya.
Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to potential complications from Zika and dengue. Medical professionals still don’t fully understand the possible link between Zika and babies who are being born with smaller heads than normal as has been widely seen in Brazil over the past couple months.
Health officials warned that people with suspected cases of dengue should not take ibuprofen, aspirin or aspirin-containing drugs, since these medicines can increase the risk of hemorrhage.
To reduce transmission of diseases, infected persons should protect themselves from subsequent mosquito bites, since that’s how mosquitoes get the viruses and spread them.
“These cases of dengue highlight the importance of mosquito control efforts in the Virgin Islands,” according to Health’s press release.
“Following recent rains in USVI, the Department of Health is urging residents to check their property for standing water, where mosquitoes can breed, and repair window screens.”
To eliminate standing water reservoirs, Health recommends that people take the following measures:
– Empty and scrub, turn over, cover or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers. Check inside and outside your home.
– Tightly cover water storage containers (buckets, cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get inside to lay eggs.
– For containers without lids, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
Health is partnering with several labs and clinics throughout the territory to provide free virus infection testing. Pregnant women and people experiencing symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes should seek medical advice.
On St. Croix:
– Beeston Hill Clinical Lab, 773-4990.
– Clinical Laboratory Inc. (Sunny Isle), 778-5369.
– Frederiksted Health Care, Inc., 772-0260.
– Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital & Medical Center,778-6311.
– Primary Care PLLC, 718-7788.
On St. John:
– Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, 693-8900.
On St. Thomas:
– Community Medical Laboratory, 776-7444.
– Cranston/Dottin Biomedical Lab, 774-6256.
– Doctors Clinical Laboratory, 774-2760.
– Havensight Medical Laboratory, 774-5515.
– Roy Lester Schneider Hospital, 776-8311.