Zika’s presence in the Virgin Islands has changed the way pregnant women carry out their day-to-day lives. Since mosquitoes carry the virus, these women become acutely aware of where mosquitoes lurk and how to avoid them.
Since the start of the territory’s Zika outbreak in late January, the V.I. Department of Health has worked in close partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emergency Operations Center to educate local pregnant women. Together Health and the CDC have given more than 600 community presentations about the virus, saying that informing the public is key to preventing Zika’s spread.
Efforts have been focused on testing and, to date, 727 pregnant women’s blood samples have been sent to labs in the U.S. mainland. Three pregnant women have tested positive for the virus and one has given birth to a healthy baby, but the status of the other two remains unknown due to privacy concerns.
Dalimarys and Jazmin, pregnant women on St. Croix who prefer to go by just their first names, are deeply aware of the danger the virus poses. Accordingly, it has an effect on what they chose to do every day even though the women aren’t paralyzed by fear.
Their concern is warranted: The CDC has confirmed that Zika can cause microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormal smallness of the head and stunted brain development. If unborn babies contract Zika while in the womb, they could suffer form microcephaly and other illnesses, such as eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth.
Neither of the women knew about the virus when they become pregnant. Jazmin was already pregnant when it cropped up and Dalimarys conceived around the time the territory’s first case was confirmed.
When Dalimarys found out the virus, she said, “A million things came to mind.” She wanted more information and read as much as she could about it online. Jazmin, of course, was also concerned when she learned of the virus.
“I was really worried and scared, because there’s a lot of mosquitoes in the tropics and you can’t really escape them,” said Jazmin, who is now eight months pregnant.
Fitting for this digital age, they both found out about Zika through the social media website Facebook. Friends and family shared stories about the virus online to warn the women of its then suspected and now proven link to birth defects.
Both women said they have already had one child and are familiar with pregnancy, but Zika’s presence has changed the nature of their second one. They spend much more time inside and carry bug spray with them at all times, they said.
On a regular basis, they check for stagnant water where mosquitoes could breed around their homes. Even though temperatures are rising outside, they’re usually wearing clothing that covers their arms and legs to decrease the odds of being bitten.
Dalimarys and Jazmin said that Health has been instrumental in providing information about the virus and giving out preventions kits that include insect repellent and mosquito nets. The two women said they’ve also been helping spread the word about the free prevention kits and have been educating others about Zika’s dangers.
Jazmin uses her mosquito net every night, while Dalimarys plans to start doing so soon. They’re also not exercising outside and are going to the beach less, which were regular activities pre-Zika. Partaking in these activities isn’t worth the risk, they said.
“I do a lot of fitness exercises but I haven’t been able to go to the outdoor class that I generally attend,” Dalimarys said. “If I do go to the beach, I don’t stay too long.”
Jazmin cut out hiking, one of her favorite activities, and also hasn’t really been going to the beach. “I’m avoiding these places to stay safe,” she said.
Early in their pregnancies, both women were tested for Zika and their results were negative. Dalimarys is currently waiting on the results of her second test. Jazmin wasn’t sure about the recommendations for getting tested subsequent times, but will be tested again soon.
According to the latest CDC guidelines, pregnant women living in an area with local Zika transmission should be tested regardless of if they’re showing symptoms or not and all pregnant women should be tested when prenatal care starts. In addition to getting an ultrasound around 18-20 weeks, women should get tested for Zika a second time around the middle of the second trimester.
Women who test positive for Zika at any point during their pregnancy should consider getting regular ultrasounds to track their unborn baby’s development. (For full testing guidelines, see Related Links below)
In June, the World Health Organization officially recommended that women in areas with local Zika transmission delay pregnancy but the V.I. Department of Health hasn’t released an official response to this recommendation.
Will Zika’s presence in the territory influence Dalimarys and Jazmin’s decisions to have more children in the future? Dalimarys said it won’t but she would maybe change her mind if there’s a dramatic spike in the number of cases.
“I’m not stressed about it now,” Dalimarys said. “I’m just doing what I can and will let God deal with the rest.”
Jazmin said she’ll likely take some time before having her next child.
“I’ve always wanted a big family and this doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, but it does make me want to be more careful,” Jazmin said.
“A lot of people always think it can’t happen to them, but it can,” Jazmin continued. “ You have to protect yourself, your unborn child and your family – it’s very important.”
So far there have been 29 confirmed cases of Zika in the territory: 16 on St. Croix, 12 on St Thomas, and one on St. John. More women than men have tested positive for the virus, likely because more women are being tested in light of the birth defects Zika can cause.
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.