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Weekly Update: USVI Sees First Zika Case in Pregnant Woman; CDC Confirms Disease’s Link to Birth Defects

This week the V.I. Department of Health confirmed the territory’s first case of Zika in a pregnant woman on St. Croix, bringing the number of positive cases to 14.

Dr. Esther Ellis, Health’s territorial epidemiologist, said the woman was tested around a month ago for Zika when she was 34-weeks pregnant, but the results just came back recently.

According to a Health press release, “She has since delivered a healthy baby with normal head circumference, showing no signs of microcephaly. The Department of Health will continue to monitor the mother and child’s progress over the next several weeks.”

This news comes amidst the Centers for Disease Control’s announcement that Zika definitely caused profound birth defects like microcephaly. Originally the CDC thought the link could take several months to prove, but the major increase in Zika research around the world has speed the confirmation process.

“Not all pregnant women who get Zika will have a baby with microcephaly,” Ellis explained. “The most recent estimates from the medical journal The Lancet say that about 1 in 100 women will give birth to a baby with a smaller head if infected.”

Some countries with locally transmitted Zika cases have also witnessed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a disorder that can result in paralysis as the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

“We’ve alerted health care providers to be on the lookout for GBS and looked at past cases of the disorder here to know what the baseline for occurrence is,” Ellis said. In the last five years, the territory has had about one case of GBS per year and has not noticed an increase since Zika’s arrival.

To date, 13 of the 14 confirmed Zika cases have occurred on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas. Ten of the infections have occurred in females while four have occurred in males.

There have been 177 suspected cases in the territory since the start of the outbreak. A total of 107 cases have come back negative for Zika and 54 are currently pending results. There are also two cases listed as “no specimen” on the weekly surveillance report, which indicates that a blood sample was unavailable for testing.

Health has confirmed 14 cases of dengue this and plans on distributing a weekly surveillance report as early as next week.

Zika’s transmission in the territory has been relatively slow to date, likely due to the territory’s small population and prevention efforts. There’s not much to be learned about how much Zika could spread from looking at past mosquito-borne disease outbreaks, since each one is so different and weather patterns, including rainfall and temperature, play a big role.

“With the last chikunguyna outbreak we had eight months of sporadic cases until we saw a rapid increase in case counts,” Ellis said, illustrating how disease transmission rates can’t really be predicted.

Ellis said the CDC’s announcement about Zika causing birth defects will not change Health’s response efforts, since the department has already been responding as if the disease caused microcephaly.

“The Virgin Islands is being looked to as a success story for our active response despite limited funding,” Ellis said. 

According to Ellis, the CDC has said that the territory is an ideal model for Zika response. In less than a week of the first confirmed case, the CDC had personnel on the ground assisting with communication and education efforts. There are now seven people from the CDC in territory specifically to help with Zika response.

“We focused on getting pregnant women Zika prevention kits and have distributed over 500 so far at 10 area clinics. We’ve also had a huge educational push by visiting 49 schools and many churches and senior centers,” Ellis said.

The CDC has also contracted a private company to inspect the homes of pregnant women for potential mosquito breeding risks and to offer larvicide treatment if necessary. So far, 240 households have been contacted. The company is also keeping track of homes that need window screens repaired, but Health is still determining a plan for how to address them. 

Any households with a pregnant woman that would like this free service or want additional information about it can call Health’s Emergency Operations Center at 340-712-6205.

Health continues to provide free Zika testing at area clinics for pregnant women, despite if they’re showing symptoms or not. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, but can also include muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and vomiting.

Health is distributing education materials in English and Spanish, as well as prevention tools like mosquito nets, insect repellent and condoms 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 partnering with several labs and clinics throughout the territory to provide free virus infection testing:

On St. Croix:

– 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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