On Tuesday the V.I. Department of Health confirmed 50 new cases of Zika virus in the territory after confirming the same amount of cases last week. The number of cases went from 193 to 243 with the majority new cases occurring on St. Thomas.
Health officials are reminding the public that Zika is peaking at about eight months after it was first detected in the territory, which is in line with how the 2014 chikungunya outbreak unfolded.
“We are in the exponential phase of the epidemiological curve of the outbreak, which means every week we will have more positive results coming back,” Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said in a press release.
“At some point, the results will peak and then we will be on the other side of the outbreak and will then see a reduction in cases,” Davis said.
Last weekend, Health held Zika action days on St. Thomas and St. Croix to educate the public about the disease, to provide free testing and to give out prevention products such as repellents and larvicide dunks for standing water.
More than 1,000 people attended the events and 37 families scheduled appointments for vector control treatment at their homes. More than 3,000 prevention products were distributed at the events, according to the department.
Since early July, the majority of the territory’s new cases have been reported on St. Thomas, which now has 199 cases. St. Croix added seven cases in the last week and now has 40, while St. John has four.
One new case of dengue was reported this week, which brings the total to 30 for this year: 14 on St. Croix, 14 on St. Thomas and two on St. John.
Davis said more than “1,500 individuals have been tested for Zika in the territory and the majority of the lab results have been negative.” To date, 438 of the 761 suspected cases reported to Health have come back negative, while 74 cases are pending lab results.
Despite the rise in Zika 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.
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. Once someone contracts Zika, it clears from the blood in one to two weeks and he or she is immune to getting it again.
More women are being tested for Zika than men because of the developmental issues that Zika can cause to unborn babies. Health has been proactively testing pregnant women for the virus since the outbreak began and 1,200 Zika prevention kits have been given to local pregnant women so far.
According to this week’s surveillance report, 19 pregnant women have laboratory evidence for Zika. Of that total, five are presumptive positives that need additional testing to confirm. So far, three women who tested positive for Zika during pregnancy have given birth to healthy infants.
Davis added, “The Department of Health is monitoring these infants for up to 12 months to ensure they meet all developmental milestones. Based on current research, greater than 90 percent of all pregnant women who test positive for Zika will deliver an infant free from the development of microcephaly.”
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 in the mosquito population.
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.
According to Health, 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 sponsored the Zika action days in collaboration with Walgreens and other partners, such as Spectrum, The Female Health Company, Vector Disease Control International and Ackley Communications. A number of government agencies showed their support for the action days, including the Departments of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Agriculture, Public Works, Property and Procurement, Planning and Natural Resources, the V.I. Emergency Management Agency, the Office of the Governor and the V.I. Waste Management Authority.
Free Zika testing is available 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 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.