This week the V.I. Department of Health confirmed 52 new cases of Zika virus in the territory, bringing the total number of cases to 462.
Though the number of Zika cases continues to grow each week, Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said the number of reported cases based on symptom onset has been going down for five weeks in a row.
“Looking at the epidemiological curve, the reported cases peaked five weeks ago,” Davis explained. “However, an outbreak is dynamic and, based on the data we have thus far, it is hard to predict.”
Davis said the recent heavy rains in the territory could lead to an increase in the mosquito population, so people should take the necessary precautions to avoid being bitten and should address standing water issues near their homes.
Since early July, the bulk of new cases have been reported on St. Thomas, a result of the island’s higher population density, which eases the spread of transmission.
St. Thomas now has 369 confirmed cases – 39 more than last week. St. Croix added seven cases in the last week and now has 67 total, while St. John reported six more cases bringing its total to 26.
To deliver results, Health is calling all patients that were tested either at their offices or one of the clinical labs listed below that are offering free testing. All other results get sent to the provider, who is then supposed to inform patients of their test results.
For those who have been waiting longer than three weeks for their results, they can call Health’s emergency operations center and ask to speak with the territorial epidemiologist at 340-712-6205.
No new cases of dengue have been reported for the past four weeks. To date this year, there have been 16 cases of dengue on St. Thomas, 14 on St. Croix and two on St. John.
Health has not reported any hospitalizations or deaths as a result of Zika so far. There have also been no cases of Guillain-Barre` Syndrome (GBS), 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.
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 protection could last.
Despite the growing number of cases around the world, there’s no medicine or vaccine for Zika yet. For now people who come down with the virus are encouraged to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
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 more than 1,500 Zika prevention kits have been given to local pregnant women.
According to this week’s surveillance report, 35 pregnant women have been confirmed positive with an additional 13 probable cases that are 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.