For the third consecutive week, the V.I. Department of Health has no new cases of Zika virus to report; the current total remains at 21 cases.
Despite three weeks of good news, it’s still too soon to determine if the outbreak is slowing and it’s important to remember that the spread of mosquito-borne diseases can linger before really taking off.
“We don’t yet have enough data to indicate a trend one way or another about the direction of the outbreak at this time,” said Faith Carmichael, a member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zika virus field team on St. Croix.
The Health Department is still urging all pregnant women to be tested for Zika. If unborn babies contract Zika, they could suffer birth defects. In April the CDC confirmed that Zika can cause microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormal smallness of the head and stunted brain development.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, but they can also include muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and vomiting.
“Although the number of confirmed Zika cases continues to remain steady, we cannot afford to be complacent and must continue to address this outbreak with vigilance and urgency,” Dr. Michelle Davis, Health Commissioner nominee, said in a press release.
Davis continued, “There are simple steps each of us can take every day: use insect repellent, wear protective clothes and mosquito-proof your home.”
There have been three confirmed cases of Zika in pregnant women so far. One woman has already given birth to a healthy baby, but the conditions of the other two pregnant women who were confirmed positive have not been disclosed due to confidentiality issues.
To date, 15 of the 21 confirmed Zika cases have occurred on St. Croix. St. Thomas has five confirmed cases and St. John has one case.
Fifteen of the infections have occurred in females and six in males, which is likely due to the fact that more women are requesting Zika testing since it can pose pregnancy issues.
There have been 228 suspected cases in the territory since the start of the outbreak in January. A total of 183 cases – an increase of seven from last week – have come back negative for Zika and 21 are currently pending results.
There are also three cases listed as “no specimen” on the weekly surveillance report, which indicates that a blood sample was unavailable for testing.
As of May 18, there were 60 countries and territories with continuing mosquito-borne transmission of Zika.
In addition to the threat of microcephaly, there are concerns over Zika’s suspected link to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that can result in paralysis as the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.
According to the World Health Organization, GBS cases have increased in 13 countries or territories where Zika is present, including in the Dominican Republic and other countries in Central and South America.
Carmichael said Health is monitoring for GBS and that there have been no GBS cases so far on any of the islands in the territory as a result of Zika.
She said Health has looked at past GBS cases to see what the territory’s baseline is for its occurrence, since it can happen independently of a Zika infection. In the last five years, the territory has had about one GBS case per year.
Nearby Puerto Rico has had 925 confirmed cases of Zika with one case of microcephaly in a fetus. The higher caseload reflects Puerto Rico’s larger population of 3.5 million.
The CDC reports that there have been five cases of GBS in Puerto Rico, but that’s not an increase in regular incidences. At least one of these cases, however, has been confirmed in a person infected with Zika.
According to this week’s surveillance report, Health has confirmed 15 cases of dengue this year, eight on St. Croix and seven on St. Thomas. For the last two weeks, no new cases of dengue have been reported.
The Department of Health is continuing to offer free Zika testing for pregnant women regardless of if they are showing symptoms or not. The CDC has contracted a private company to inspect the homes of pregnant women for potential mosquito breeding risks and to offer larvicide treatment if necessary.
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 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 also partnering with several labs and clinics throughout the territory to provide free virus infection testing. 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.