“With the rainy season approaching and more mosquitoes, it is urgent we get the message out now,” said Bezaleel Gebru, a public health advisor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to the Rotary Club of St. Croix on how to respond to the Zika virus outbreak.
Although the numbers are not yet big – 16 confirmed cases in the Virgin Islands –the CDC is maintaining a response team in the territory.
Gebru has been on-island three weeks but another member of the CDC team, Kathryn Haugen, arrived Wednesday and will be on St. Croix for six weeks. Haugen is a field preparedness assignee with the CDC. There are two other CDC team members on St. Thomas.
The CDC has contracted with Victor Disease Control International to offer resources to residents who may be infected by Zika.
The Virgin Islands is no stranger to mosquito-bred viruses, suffering outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya in recent years. A recent report on CNN referred to the female Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries these viruses as the “deadliest animal on the planet,” saying that mosquito was responsible for “the spread of dangerous diseases such as yellow and dengue fevers, chikungunya and now Zika.”
Gebru told the Rotarians at the Thursday meeting atGertrude’s that, although most of the symptoms of Zika are similar to the other diseases, in other ways it was different. Only one in five people who are infected with the disease will actually show the symptoms – muscle or joint pain; headache, especially with pain behind the eyes; skin rashes; and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
And the Zika virus may stay in a person’s bloodstream for more than 60 days, she said.
Infection can come not only from being bitten by a mosquito but can also be transferred through sexual activities, blood transfusions and from mother to child.
Gebru said the danger from blood transfusion is small since blood for transfusions was coming from the states. She urged residents to take measures against other potential forms of infection. She suggested the use of insect repellent to the point of spraying clothes before a person puts them on. She also suggested keeping houses cool because the mosquitoes thrive in warm air.
Most importantly she said, “We must eliminate all forms of standing water.” She said the mosquitoes could find prime breeding spots in standing water in tires, flower pots and toys left in the yard.
Gebru said the CDC has been making educational presentations about the disease and transmission at schools in the territory and also inspecting the schools for possible breeding spots for the mosquitoes.
Pregnant women are of a special concern to health officials because of Zika’s link to birth defects. There are special resources available to pregnant women. They can receive Zika tests and Zika kits at various locations throughout the territory.
Anyone can receive a free Zika test if they exhibit two or more of the systems associated with the disease.For information about the resources available, call the U.S. Department of health at (340) 712-6205. More information can be obtained at www.cdc.gov/zika.
Members of the Rotary Club said they would help spread the word about Zika and gave suggestions to Gebru on how to reach the community through public events and social media.