This week the V.I. Department of Health reported 10 new cases of Zika virus, including seven in pregnant women.
Since the outbreak was first detected in the territory in late January 2016, a total of 1,177 people have tested positive for the virus. New cases per week have significantly decreased in 2017 with the outbreak peaking in St. Thomas late last summer and in the fall on St. Croix.
“The outbreak has drastically reduced to very low levels of transmission with only a few new cases being confirmed per week,” explained territorial epidemiologist Esther Ellis. “There is still transmission occurring, so it’s very important for pregnant women to continue to protect themselves by using protection.”
Ellis said that so far not a single baby born to a Zika-positive mother has experienced a complication from the virus. Of the 185 pregnant women who have tested positive, there have been 72 births to date.
To monitor these infants, Health is checking in with their mothers for up to one year and has already followed up with them at two-months and six-months old.
According to Ellis, Health does not foresee any future spikes in the outbreak.
“Although there is a low level of transmission, it’s still very important to continue taking precautionary measures. A major spike could occur if there’s a sudden increase in the mosquito population and people that have not previously been exposed,” explained Ellis.
Excluding cases in pregnant women, St. Thomas now has 670 confirmed cases and St. Croix has 239, while St. John stands at 83. Since the first local case was announced, a total of 2,460 cases have come back negative and 38 are currently pending results.
Zika can cause unborn babies to be born with an abnormally small head, a condition known as microcephaly, and can lead to other developmental issues.
According to published data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 to 99 percent of women infected with Zika during pregnancy will have a normal birth outcome.
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.
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. Conjunctivitis is not caused by dengue, however, so it can be a telltale sign of having Zika.
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, though doctors are working to develop one. For now people who come down with the virus are encouraged to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
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.
Dengue is also circulating in the territory. When a person is tested for Zika, they are also screened for dengue and chikungunya. For that reason, Health has been tracking dengue cases since the start of the Zika outbreak as well.
During the Zika outbreak, there have been six cases of dengue on St. Thomas, 10 on St. Croix and two on St. John. Ellis said that dengue transmission has been extremely low and that the caseload has recently gone down due to some of them being ruled out. She added that there has not been a dengue outbreak since 2012.
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.