Zika Update: Territory Reports 19 New Cases; Health Department Unsure if Outbreak Is Peaking

The V.I. Health Department confirmed 19 new cases of Zika virus in the territory on Tuesday, bringing the total to 365 up from last week’s 346.

Based on the how past dengue and chikungunya outbreaks have unfolded in the territory, Health has speculated that Zika’s peak could be happening now. There’s been a rapid uptick in cases for about the past two months.

"We cannot definitively state that we are at the peak for Zika,” Heath Commissioner Michelle Davis said. “We have been using epidemiological trends for previous mosquito-borne disease outbreaks to inform us about what could happen, not what will happen.”

Davis continued, “The number of blood samples that are sent for testing fluctuate each week. This is dependent on how many individuals are present for testing.”

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Since early July, the bulk of new cases have been reported on St. Thomas. Davis said it’s likely due to the island’s higher population density, which eases the spread of transmission.

Last week when Davis addressed the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, she also said the higher number of cases on St. Thomas could be attributed to drainage issues on the island.

“More standing water on St. Thomas is the crux of it, as is higher population density on the island. St. Croix doesn’t have the same issues,” Davis said at the tourism meeting.

Davis told attendees they could call the Zika hotline at 340-712-6205 to report drainage problems that could lead to more mosquitos breeding.

“In the last couple weeks, we’ve been spraying the landfills, which are usually only sprayed once a month,” Davis said, adding that there are about 100,000 tires in both of the territory’s two landfills. Old tires are common breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  

St. Thomas now has 300 confirmed cases – 16 more than last week. St. Croix added two cases in the last week and now has 52 total, while St. John reported one more case, bringing its total to 13.

Currently all samples must be sent to the mainland for testing, but last week Davis said the Health Department was recently awarded $5 million to build a fully equipped testing lab, which should be completed by the end of the year.

Dengue is also still circulating in the territory but with fewer incidences than Zika. One new case of dengue was reported this week, which brings the total to 32 for this year: 16 on St. Thomas, 14 on St. Croix and two on St. John.

“Dengue is smaller because we aren’t experiencing an outbreak of dengue right now. The reason we aren’t experiencing an outbreak has to do with what is happening in neighboring places (no infected people to bring it in) as well as some underlying immunity in our population because dengue has been here before,” Davis explained in early September.

Health has not reported any hospitalizations or deaths as a result of Zika to date. There have also been no cases of Guillain-Barre` Syndrome (GBS), 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 headache, fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes (conjunctivitis) and pain behind the eyes, which can make it difficult to distinguish from dengue.

To date the most common symptoms experienced by people in territory who test positive are rash and joint pain. According to the CDC, the rash usually looks like small blotchy red patches or bumps and doesn’t always itch. The rash reportedly starts most often on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body over the course of a couple days. It’s also common for people to report experiencing joint pain in the hands and feet as the infection progresses.

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 it’s believed that he or she is immune to getting it again though its not certain how long the protection could last.

Despite the growing number of cases around the world, there’s no medicine or vaccine for Zika yet. For now people who come down with the virus are encouraged to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

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 more than 1,500 Zika prevention kits have been given to local pregnant women.

According to this week’s surveillance report, out of the more than 1,000 pregnant women who have been tested for Zika to date, 33 have been confirmed positive, with an additional seven probable cases that are awaiting confirmatory testing results.

In late July, the CDC 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 like it is here.

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.

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.

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