TheV.I. Department of Health confirmed 56 new cases of Zika virus in the territory on late Thursday. In the last week, the number of cases increased from 243 to 299 with most of these cases occurring on St. Thomas.
Health officials believe the outbreak is peaking now, especially on St. Thomas, due to the island’s higher population density, which eases the spread of transmission.
“Based on previous outbreaks it appears that we are at the peak,” Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said, adding this outbreak is following a similar trend to previous chikungunya outbreaks. “Based on that data we expect it to peak for about a month and then decline,” she said.
Davis continued, “The case load is much less than our previous chikungunya outbreak but that is expected because, with chikungunya, about 75 percent of people who had that virus got sick; however, [for] individuals who contract the Zika virus, only about 20 percent get sick.”
For the last two months, the majority of the territory’s new cases have been reported on St. Thomas, which now has 245 cases total – 46 more than last week. St. Croix added seven cases in the last week and now has 47 total, while St. John reported three more cases bringing its total to seven.
Davis said that even before the case load increased on St. Thomas, Health began ramping up education and mosquito control efforts on the island.
“The support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the DOH’s experience and continuous preparation for communicable diseases establishes the USVI as one of the most prepared nations in the Caribbean to respond to the Zika epidemic,” Davis explained.
Dengue is also still circulating in the territory, but with fewer incidences than Zika. One new case of dengue was reported this week, which brings the total to 31 for this year: 15 on St. Thomas, 14 on St. Croix and two on St. John.
“Dengue is smaller because we aren’t experiencing an outbreak of dengue right now. The reason we aren’t experiencing an outbreak has to do with what is happening in neighboring places (no infected people to bring it in) as well as some underlying immunity in our population because dengue has been here before,” Davis explained.
So far, Davis said, no one in the territory has been simultaneously infected with Zika and dengue, but that it is theoretically possible.
Health has not reported any hospitalizations or deaths as a result of Zika to date. 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 headache, fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes (conjunctivitis) and pain behind the eyes, which can make it difficult to distinguish from dengue.
To date the most common symptoms experienced by people in territory who test positive are rash and joint pain. According to the CDC, the rash usually looks like small blotchy red patches or bumps and doesn’t always itch. The rash reportedly starts most often on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body over the course of a couple days.
It’s also common for people to report experiencing joint pain in the hands and feet as the infection progresses.
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 it’s believed that he or she is immune to getting it again though its not certain how long the immunity could last.
More women are being tested for Zika than men, 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 1,500 Zika prevention kits have been given to local pregnant women so far.
According to this week’s surveillance report, out of the 1,023 pregnant women who have been tested for Zika to date, 21 have been confirmed positive while one is probably and awaiting confirmatory testing results.
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 in the mosquito population like it is here.
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.
Free Zika testing is available 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.