On Tuesday, the V.I. Department of Health confirmed 65 new cases of Zika and announced that five babies born with the virus are all healthy.
Zika can cause unborn babies to be born with an abnormally small head but all five of the infants reportedly have normal head circumferences. To date, 37 pregnant women in the territory have been confirmed positive for Zika and an additional 24 are probable cases that are awaiting results.
The outbreak appears to have peaked in late July but a number of new cases have recently been reported as starting in mid September.
“The peak was still six weeks ago; that second peak you see on the epidemiological curve is still below the first peak,” territorial epidemiologist Esther Ellis explained. “It is a very gradual downward trend at this point.”
For that reason, Ellis said it is still to early to determine if the outbreak will stay on this downward slope and that Health is still unsure of the cause of the spike in cases in early September.
Ellis explained that the Zika outbreak is still following the same trend as the chikungunya outbreak.
“As with chikungunya, it peaked at the same time around week 37 and stayed high for about four to six weeks, depending on the island, and then took a drastic downward turn. We haven’t seen the drastic downward turn yet for Zika, but this isn’t unlike chikungunya yet,” Ellis said.
The peak in late July and mid September is most noticeable when looking at the epidemiological curve for St. Thomas in blue (See line graph). Reported cases are on one axis and the onset of symptoms are on the other axis.
“We may have a surge of results one week, but that doesn’t mean that’s when the illness happened, since some results take longer to get back and some people are waiting longer to get tested after they first get sick,” Ellis explained last week.
That means the number of new cases that are confirmed each week isn’t reflective of the current situation and that the onset of symptoms has to be taken into account to see when the virus was likely first contracted.
There have been 589 positives since the first case was announced in late January. A total of 667 cases have come back negative and 139 are currently pending results.
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 417 confirmed cases, which is 53 more than last week. St. Croix added eight cases in the last week and now has 86 total, while St. John reported four more cases bringing its total to 33.
To deliver results, Health is calling all patients that were tested either at their offices or one of the clinical labs listed below that are offering free testing. All other results get sent to the provider who is then supposed to inform patients of their test results.
For those 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 Dr. Ellis: 340-712-6205.
No new cases of dengue have been reported for the past several weeks. To date this year, there have been 16 cases 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. 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.
The most common symptoms experienced by people in the 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.
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 has been giving out Zika prevention kits.
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 tool kits with items 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.