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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 23, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsZika Update: Jump to 115 Cases; Health Department Continues Proactive Response

Zika Update: Jump to 115 Cases; Health Department Continues Proactive Response

After the number of Zika cases in the territory climbed from 79 to 115 this week, the V.I. Department of Health is reassuring the public that it’s working diligently to stem the outbreak.

According to Health’s latest surveillance report, there are 36 new cases. Following the trend exhibited during the chikungunya outbreak, Health says Zika is also peaking at about eight months after it was first detected.

Despite the uptick in cases, Health said those who have been confirmed positive have had mild reactions with no hospitalizations or deaths as a result. There have also been no cases of Guillain-Barre` Syndrome, a disorder that’s been linked to Zika that can result in paralysis as the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

The Health Department said the Virgin Islands are still “one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean” owing to its preparation measures.

Because of its experience with past outbreaks, Health said it has “an internal infrastructure that allows for a rapid response to diseases contracted by mosquitoes,” adding that many, including government officials, residents and international news outlets, have taken notice of the department’s comprehensive response effort.

The majority of new cases have been reported on St. Thomas. Health said that island’s higher population density has led to higher transmission rates. St. Thomas added 32 cases just this past week and now has 90 total Zika cases. New cases have slowed on St. Croix where the outbreak began with the island having only 23 of the 115 confirmed cases; St. John’s second case was reported this week. 

“Although concerning to many, the rise in Zika cases is and has been expected,” Health Commissioner Michelle S. Davis said in a press release. “Analysis from the previous chikungunya outbreak in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico shows that the outbreak peaked between the 34th and 37th weeks; those weeks were reportedly the highest during the chikungunya outbreak. We anticipate seeing a decline in cases in the coming months.”

Davis continued, “The U.S. Virgin Islands has been fortunate that our numbers have remained modest and that the territory has a well-coordinated and organized infrastructure in place to respond to Zika.”

Zika’s most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, which can make it difficult to distinguish from dengue. Health is urging anyone experiencing these symptoms to get tested at one of the 12 free testing centers listed below.

Because of the developmental issues that Zika can cause to unborn babies, Health has been proactively testing pregnant women for the virus. As of last week, 1,321 tests had been conducted on pregnant women in the territory.

According to last week’s surveillance report, 10 pregnant women have laboratory evidence for Zika. As of last week, six of these women are confirmed positives, while the other four are presumptive positives that need additional testing to confirm.

In late July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that both women and men can sexually transmit Zika. The Virgin Islands has not reported any sexually transmitted cases, as it’s difficult to tell whether a case was transmitted through sexual contact or through the bite of a mosquito when the disease is circulating locally.

Health has received funding from the CDC to continue mosquito eradication efforts throughout the territory with assistance from an international firm, Vector Disease Control Intl, which is implementing mosquito vector control programs on all three islands.

Mosquito control efforts are being carried out in public places that have been linked to dengue and chikungunya transmission in the past. Specialized teams are inspecting public sites, including empty lots, abandoned swimming pools and construction sites, to evaluate their mosquito breeding potential and address problem areas.

Davis said Health “has learned from past outbreaks and has created the necessary infrastructure to provide the needed community outreach and education, disease surveillance, diagnostic control and an integrated vector control program to help protect pregnant women, the public and visitors.”

With the assistance of CDC support staff and an Emergency Operations Systems that Health activated in February, Health has given 243 presentations throughout the territory to educate about Zika.

According to the department, people can protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites by following these three cautionary measures that start with a D:

– Dress: Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, long pants and light colors;

– Drain: Get rid of water containers in and around your home;

– Defend: Use repellant on exposed skin and treat clothes with one of several EPA-approved repellants;

Health is continuing to offer free Zika testing for pregnant women regardless of if they are showing symptoms or not and educational materials are being distributed in English and Spanish. Prevention tools like mosquito nets, insect repellent and condoms are being given away free of charge to pregnant women. So far 900 prevention kits have been distributed and can be found at the following locations:

On St. Croix   

– Department of Health MCH Clinic    

– Department of Health WIC Clinic

– Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center   

– Frederiksted Health Center  

On St. John    

– Health Care Connection 

– Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center  

On St. Thomas

– Department of Health MCH Clinic (Pediatric)       

– Department of Health Community Health Clinic (Prenatal)         

– Roy Lester Schneider Hospital

– East End Medical Center

For local information about Zika virus, call the Department of Health Emergency Operations Center at 340-712-6205. For more general information about the Zika virus, call toll free: 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Health is also partnering with several labs and clinics throughout the territory to provide free virus testing for anyone who is showing symptoms. The department said that if you are turned away from testing or are told to pay for testing then to call Health, since it has agreements in place with several facilities. These places should not be charging for Zika testing:

On St. Croix:

– Acute Alternative Medical Group, 772-2883.

– 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.

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