On late Wednesday the V.I. Department of Health confirmed 50 new cases of Zika virus in the territory. According to the latest surveillance report, the number of cases went from 143 to 193 in the last week.
As was the case with the 2014 chikungunya outbreak, Health officials say that Zika is also peaking at about eight months after it was first detected in the territory.
To address the growing number of cases, Health is collaborating with Walgreens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Ackley Communications to host a Zika Action Day on St. Croix on Friday at Fort Christian and on St. Thomas on Saturday at the Walgreens Pharmacy parking lot in Tutu. Both events will run from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m.
Health Commissioner Michelle S. Davis and other senior government officials will speak at the events. Walgreens is offering free bags and coupons to the first 250 participants and will give away $20 gift cards on the hour to persons who visit each Zika booth. There will also be food vendors and kid-friendly activities.
The action day is part of Health’s awareness campaign that’s focusing on mosquito prevention and education. Prevention information will be provided, as will giveaways and prevention resources.
“Zika Action Day provides a unique opportunity for us to come together [public and private partners] as a community and show our solidarity for Zika prevention and doing what is necessary to stop this virus from spreading,” Davis said.
Since early July, the majority of the territory’s new cases have been reported on St. Thomas, which now has 157 cases total. St. Croix has 33 cases and St. John has three.
Six new cases of dengue were reported this week, which brings the total to 29 for this year: 14 on St. Croix, 13 on St. Thomas and two on St. John.
Despite the rise in Zika cases, Health said those who have been confirmed positive have had mild reactions with no hospitalizations or deaths as a result. There have also been no cases of Guillain-Barre` Syndrome, a disorder that’s been linked to Zika that can result in paralysis as the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.
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. Once someone contracts Zika, it clears from the blood in one to two weeks and he or she is immune to getting it again.
More women are being tested for Zika than men, likely because of the developmental issues that Zika can cause to unborn babies. Health has been proactively testing pregnant women for the virus since the outbreak began and 1,200 Zika prevention kits have been given to local pregnant women so far.
According to this week’s surveillance report, 17 pregnant women have laboratory evidence for Zika. Of that total, 11 of these women are confirmed positives, while the other six are presumptive positives that need additional testing to confirm.
Davis explained that “Based on current research, greater than 90 percent of all pregnant women who test presumptive positive for Zika will deliver an infant free from the development of microcephaly.”
In late July, the CDC reported that both women and men can sexually transmit Zika. The Virgin Islands has not reported any sexually transmitted cases, 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.
Health has received CDC funding to continue mosquito eradication efforts throughout the territory with assistance from an international firm, Vector Disease Control International, which is implementing mosquito vector control programs on all three islands.
Hospitals, clinics, schools, daycare centers, churches and other public places are eligible for free mosquito inspections.
Mosquito control efforts are being carried out in public places that have been linked to dengue and chikungunya transmission in the past. Specialized teams are inspecting public sites, including empty lots, abandoned swimming pools and construction sites, to evaluate their mosquito breeding potential and address problem areas.
According to Health, people can protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites by following these three 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;
More than 5,000 EPA approved repellents have been distributed to the public and 258 educational presentations have been given to teach the public about Zika: 94 on St. Thomas, 147 on St. Croix and 19 on St. John.
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.