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Zika Update: Territory Reports 33 More Cases; WHO Says Zika No Longer Global Health Emergency

The V.I. Department of Health confirmed 33 new cases of Zika on Tuesday, bringing the total caseload to 866.

Late last week, the World Health Organization declared an end to Zika being a global health emergency. The lift of the emergency designation concerned many who are on the frontlines fighting the outbreak who believe that this could slow the international response.

The WHO says Zika will be treated as a dangerous mosquito-borne disease like malaria or dengue fever since the virus will likely be seasonal and return to countries that have Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are known to carry Zika. This signals that organization is setting in for a long-term fight against the virus.

But WHO stressed that the threat is still ongoing and local health departments can still declare emergencies. Since declaring Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Feb. 1, the virus has spread to nearly every country in the western hemisphere.

According to territorial epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis, “This declaration change makes no difference in how the territory is fighting the virus. We continue to expand our services to provide free testing, free vector control and continued education to the community as well as providers.”

Ellis continued, “We also continue to apply for and receive funding to support these activities. There is still active transmission in the territory and our efforts will continue in full force until there are no longer cases of Zika here in the U.S. Virgin Islands."

Local health officials had thought that the territory’s outbreak might have peaked in late July but a number of new cases have been reported as starting in mid September and thereafter. Cases reported as having started in mid September now surpass the number that started in late July.

To understand how the outbreak is unfolding, it’s best to look at the epidemiological curve. (See Graphic) There have been 866 positives, which include 86 cases in pregnant women. Since the first local case was announced in late January, a total of 1,995 cases have come back negative and 118 are currently pending results.

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 570 confirmed cases and St. Croix has 147, while St. John stands at 63.

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 Ellis at 340-712-6205.

Dengue is also currently circulating in the territory. When a person is tested for Zika, they are also screened for dengue and chikungunya as well. This year there have been 26 cases of dengue on St. Thomas, 14 on St. Croix and 2 on St. John.

Zika can cause unborn babies to be born with an abnormally small head and can lead to other developmental issues.According to published data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 to 99 percent of women infected with Zika during pregnancy will have a normal birth outcome.

Health has not reported any hospitalizations or deaths as a result of Zika in the territory. 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 the 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.

Despite the growing number of cases around the world, there’s no medicine or vaccine for Zika yet though doctors are working to develop one. 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 has been giving out Zika prevention kits.

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 tool kits with items 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.

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