This week the V.I. Department of Health reported three new cases of Zika on St. Thomas, bringing the total number of cases in the territory up to 24.
“The increase in Zika cases in the Virgin Islands are very concerning; however, we are relieved that none of the new cases include pregnant women,” Dr. Michelle Davis, Health commissioner nominee, said in a press statement.
Health is 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.
Davis explained that Health has been “vigilant in educating the public, providing free testing to individuals exhibiting symptoms, as well as free inspections, larvicide treatments and Zika prevention kits for pregnant women.” She said 600 Zika kits have been distributed territorywide.
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.
Zika is spread by the bites of infected Aedes species mosquitoes. Because the symptoms are generally mild and only last up to a week, people don’t always realize they are infected and often don’t seek medical care.
There have been three confirmed cases of Zika in pregnant women in the territory 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 24 confirmed Zika cases have occurred on St. Croix. St. Thomas has eight confirmed cases and St. John has one case.
Faith Carmichael, a member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zika virus field team on St. Croix, said there are no hotspots for where cases are occurring, but Health is targeting mosquito control efforts where there are positive cases.
“By the time test results are received, the virus would no longer be circulating in the person’s blood. Because the virus is only circulating in a person’s blood for up to a week, it can only pass the virus to the mosquitoes during this time, and the short window does make it more difficult for mosquitoes to catch,” Carmichael explained.
Seventeen of the territory’s infections have occurred in females and seven 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 253 suspected cases in the territory since the start of the outbreak in January. A total of 200 cases – an increase of 17 from last week – have come back negative for Zika and 26 are currently pending results.
According to the World Health Organization, as of May 25 there were 60 countries and territories with continuing mosquito-borne transmission of Zika. Ten countries have reported evidence for person-to-person transmission, likely through a sexual route.
“There have not been any cases of sexually transmitted Zika in USVI. Because we have local transmission and infected mosquitoes, it would be very difficult to prove that a cases was sexually transmitted versus locally acquired by a mosquito,” Carmichael said.
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. There is a growing scientific consensus that Zika can cause GBS.
The WHO reports that 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 that Health is monitoring for GBS and that so far there have been no cases on any of the islands in the territory as a result of Zika.
Health has looked at past GBS cases to see what the territory’s baseline for its occurrence is, since it can happen independently of a Zika infection. In the last five years, the territory has had about one GBS case per year.
There have been 15 case of dengue this year, eight on St. Croix and seven on St. Thomas. According to Carmichael, there have been no new dengue cases reported for the last two months, but the disease is still circulating in the territory and Heath continues to test for it.
According to Health, people can protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites by following these four cautionary measures that start with a D:
– Dress: Wear protective clothing – 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;
– Discuss: Spread the word about the simple things you can do to make a difference.
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 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.