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Local news — St. Thomas
Empty Seats at Dengue Info Session Call for Creative Outreach

Sept. 30, 2007 -- It was a community information session, without the community.
Eleven Department of Health representatives from St. Thomas and St. Croix wound up talking to themselves rather than to the public, when no one showed up for a Dengue Free Zone Initiative meeting, slated for 2 p.m. at the Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School gymnasium.
“We’ve failed to get out the word,” said Fern P. Clarke, territorial assistant commissioner of health. “Today shows we have to be more creative about what we’re doing.”
“We need a plan,” Health Department Commissioner Vivian I. Ebbesen-Fludd told her colleagues. “I know we’re juggling 10 things -- I feel your pain -- but we have a community to protect as well.”
The Health Department has been conducting outreach on St. Croix since May and had expected the Sunday session to be the launch-pad for a similar initiative on St. Thomas.

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As the session morphed from public outreach to internal planning, it was decided to bring the message about preventing and responding to dengue fever directly to the people of St. Thomas using community groups, churches, PTAs and door-to-door canvassing.
Dengue fever is a virus spread by two types of mosquitoes -- only one of which, the Aedes aegypti, is found in the Virgin Islands. The virus is spread when someone with dengue is bitten by an Aedes mosquito which then bites someone else.
A first-time infection with dengue fever is typically painful and debilitating, but it is not usually fatal; additional infections can be life-threatening, according to experts.
While all mosquitoes need standing water to hatch their eggs, the Aedes mosquito, which thrives off of human contact, looks for standing water supplies within close proximity to humans. The Health Department is trying to inform people that water left in potted plants, children’s toys, empty containers, animal water dishes and discarded tires is ideal breeding grounds for the mosquito.
Health Department officials decided Sunday to conduct assessments as part of the proposed door-to-door information-dissemination campaign. Inspectors would examine household areas for conditions that support the mosquito and would take water samples to determine if the mosquito is, in fact, present in the area.
“It could be you have areas of lots of mosquitoes, but not the Aedes aegypti,” said Dr. Eugene Tull, a Health Department epidemiologist. Ideally, assessments would be conducted every six months to measure whether residents were following guidelines to prevent the mosquito from breeding. “If we just educate and don’t know if there are changes [in circumstances that support the insect], we’re lost,” Tull added.
The communities being targeted as part of the Dengue Free Zone Initiative on St. Thomas are Nadir and Bovoni, which border the Bovoni landfill, home to discarded tires that hold brackish water. Health officials said talks with their Waste Management counterparts need to be part of the Dengue Free Zone Initiative.
The public is urged to seek medical attention if flu-like symptoms result in a high fever and aching bones -- two of the tell-tale signs of dengue.
“It’s called ‘breakbone fever,” said Tull, who has had dengue. “It felt like I was burning up from the inside. And, your body aches as if a gang of 300-pounders just fell on you,” said Tull.
People often confuse dengue with the flu and consequently don’t seek medical attention, according to Tull. If they have had dengue more than once, they risk what is called hemorrhagic fever which can be fatal, especially in young children. Tull said hospitalization is imperative for people experiencing a repeat case of dengue.
“When they start developing hemorrhagic symptoms, they develop leaking blood vessels and that creates an imbalance in the body fluids, resulting in shock, which can kill you,” Tull said. “You can stay home three days, and go in [to the hospital] the fourth day, and you may be on your way out by then.”
Residents concerned about possible mosquito breeding grounds nearby can call 773-1311, extension 3108 or 3109 on St. Croix and 774-9000 extension 4641 on St. Thomas.
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