The V.I. Department of Health confirmed 45 new cases of Zika virus in the territory on Tuesday, bringing the total to 410.
For the past couple months, there’s been an uptick in the number of cases, but Health has been unable to say with certainty whether or not the outbreak is peaking.
Health Commissioner Michelle Davis explained that there is a one to two week delay on lab results and that the amount of positives does not always correlate with what’s currently happening in the local outbreak.
“The best way to track the outbreak is by utilizing the epidemiological curve, which is the graphic showing reported cases by week of illness onset,” Davis said.
“This looks like it has already peaked and reported cases by week of illness onset have been on the decline for four weeks in a row now,” Davis said, adding this is especially clear when you look at the St. Thomas curve on the chart in blue.
Educating the population about Zika is still a major goal of the department’s outreach. In the last week, Health debuted its first TV public service announcement about Zika and has run numerous radio ads in the last several months.
“It is important to educate our populace,” Davis said, noting that Health is “diligently getting the messages out regarding Zika prevention methods through as many avenues as possible.”
Davis continued, “The more people that can be reached and educated about what the virus is, how it is spread and what we can all do to prevent it, the more we can protect ourselves and our pregnant women.”
Since early July the bulk of new cases have been reported on St. Thomas, a result of the island’s higher population density, which eases the spread of transmission.
St. Thomas now has 330 confirmed cases – 30 more than last week. St. Croix added eight cases in the last week and now has 60 total, while St. John reported seven more cases bringing its total to 20.
Currently all samples must be sent to the mainland for testing, but Health was recently awarded $5 million to build a fully equipped testing lab, which should be completed by the end of the year.
When a person is tested at the Department of Health or one of the laboratories doing free testing, then Health informs the person of their test results when they are available. Health care providers will provide the result if a person does his or her testing with them instead.
For those people who have been waiting longer than three weeks for their results, they can call Health’s emergency operations center and ask to speak with the territorial epidemiologist: 340-712-6205.
Dengue is also still circulating in the territory but with fewer incidences than Zika. The total number of cases has remained at 32 for the past two weeks: 16 on St. Thomas, 14 on St. Croix and two on St. John.
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 over 1,500 Zika prevention kits have been given to local pregnant women.
According to this week’s surveillance report, the number of pregnant women in the territory that tested positive for Zika has remained the same since last week. Out of the more than 1,000 pregnant women who have been tested, 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.