To address the growing number of Zika cases in the territory, the V.I. Department of Health is ramping up mosquito control efforts by inspecting and treating public spaces such as hospitals, clinics, schools, churches and daycare centers.
According to Health’s latest surveillance report, there are 14 new cases this week, bringing the total number to 79. July saw a swift uptick in the number of new cases in the territory compared to previous months.
“The Virgin Islands is in the midst of a significant outbreak and we are doing everything possible to get to the root of the issue by reducing the mosquito population and transmission of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika in the territory,” Health Commissioner Michelle S. Davis said in a press release.
Health has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue mosquito eradication efforts throughout the territory with assistance from an international firm. Vector Disease Control International will continue implementing a mosquito vector control program on all three islands.
“The CDC award is very timely and will assist the DOH in implementing its comprehensive Zika prevention plan, including education, outreach communication and surveillance,” Davis explained.
Mosquito control efforts will also be carried out in public places that have been linked to dengue and chikungunya transmission in the past. Specialized teams will inspect public sites, including empty lots, abandoned swimming pools and construction sites, to evaluate their mosquito breeding potential and address problem areas.
St. Thomas now has 58 cases and is where the majority of new cases have been reported over the last month: Thirteen of the 14 cases reported this week occurred there. New cases have slowed on St. Croix where the outbreak began with the island having 20 of the 79 confirmed cases. St. John reported its first case last week.
Because of the developmental issues that Zika can cause to unborn babies, Health has been proactively testing pregnant women for the virus. So far 1,321 tests have been conducted on pregnant women in the territory.
Ten pregnant women have laboratory evidence for Zika. Six of these women are confirmed positives, while the other four are presumptive positives that need additional testing to confirm.
“Amidst growing concerns about Zika and sexual transmission,” Davis said Health is “urging pregnant women to be tested for the Zika virus in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, even if they have no symptoms.”
“Pregnant women and their partners should prevent mosquito bites and use proper sexual protection for the length of the pregnancy or abstain from sex,” she said.
In late July the CDC reported that both women and men can sexually transmit Zika. Before then, only men were thought to be able to transmit the disease to sexual partners.
The Virgin Islands has not reported any sexually transmitted cases of Zika, as it’s difficult to tell whether a case was transmitted through sexual contact or through the bite of a mosquito when the disease is circulating locally
Last week Health held public forums on St. Croix and St. Thomas to educate the public about the threats Zika poses. Health is also organizing clinician seminars on St. Thomas and St. Croix. The next seminar will be held on St. Croix at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital in the third floor classroom on Thursday from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m.
Zika’s most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, which can make it difficult to distinguish from dengue. Health is urging anyone experiencing these symptoms to get tested at one of the 12 free testing centers listed below.
According to Health, no new cases of dengue were reported this week. There have been 23 cases of dengue this year: 13 on St. Croix, eight on St. Thomas and two on St. John.
In June the World Health Organization officially recommended that women in areas with local Zika transmission delay pregnancy since it confirmed that Zika can cause microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormal smallness of the head and stunted brain development. Zika also puts unborn babies at risk of other illnesses, such as eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth.
With the assistance of CDC support staff and an emergency operations system that Health activated in February, Health has given 235 presentations throughout the territory to educate about Zika.
According to the department, 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 such as 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 and educational materials are being distributed in English and Spanish. Prevention tools like mosquito nets, insect repellent and condoms are being given away free of charge 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 testing for anyone who is showing symptoms. 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.