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Zika Update: No New Cases Reported

New cases of Zika have tapered off in 2017. Click on image for larger view. (Graphic by the V.I. Department of Health)
New cases of Zika have tapered off in 2017. Click on image for larger view. (Graphic by the V.I. Department of Health)

The V.I. Department of Health reported no new cases of Zika in its weekly report, issued Tuesday. On Friday the department confirmed the territory’s first case of Zika-related microcephaly.

Zika can cause unborn babies to be born with developmental defects including vision issues and microcephaly, a condition in which an infant’s head is smaller than average.

Depending on how severe their microcephaly is, infants with microcephaly may experience other problems, such as developmental delay, feeding problems, and seizures,” the DOH reported.

In announcing the microcephaly case Friday, Health Commissioner Michelle S. Davis said officials were saddened to report the but added, “We are not surprised due to the high rate of local transmission in the territory.”

Health has been testing pregnant women for Zika throughout the outbreak and has been monitoring those who test positive for Zika for signs of microcephaly, which is sometimes possible to diagnose through an ultrasound test.

Nykole Tyson, Heath’s director of public relations, said because of privacy issues she could not comment on whether the infant’s condition was known before birth due to privacy issues.

The DOH continues to remain vigilant in its fight against Zika by providing Zika prevention kits to pregnant women, free vector control services, education, and training to clinicians and medical providers,” Tyson said.

Vector control is a program to limit or eradicate mammals, birds or insects transmit disease pathogens. In the case of Zika, DOH is seeking to eradicate the mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Tyson said Health has provided vector control to approximately 10,000 establishments territory-wide, including homes, businesses, schools, daycare centers, landfills and abandoned lots.

Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis said officials are keeping a close eye on the territory’s delivery rooms this summer.

“The territory is still seeing a low-level of Zika transmission. Between now and August is when the majority of births from Zika positive pregnant women will occur,” she said.

Since the outbreak was first detected in the territory in late January 2016, a total of 1,258 people have tested positive for the virus. New cases per week have significantly decreased in 2017 with the outbreak peaking in St. Thomas late last summer and in the fall on St. Croix.

According to published data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 to 99 percent of women infected with Zika during pregnancy will have a normal birth outcome.

Excluding cases in pregnant women, St. Thomas now has 686 confirmed cases and St. Croix has 251, while St. John stands at 89. Since the first local case was announced in January 2016, a total of 2,706 cases have come back negative and 13 are currently pending results.

Dengue is also circulating in the territory. When a person is tested for Zika, they are also screened for dengue and chikungunya. For that reason, Health has been tracking dengue cases since the start of the Zika outbreak as well.

During the Zika outbreak, there have been 7 cases of dengue on St. Thomas, 10 on St. Croix and 2 on St. John.

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.

Health has not reported any hospitalizations or deaths as a result of Zika. 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. Conjunctivitis is not caused by dengue, however, so it can be a telltale sign of having Zika.

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.

Both women and men can transmit Zika sexually. 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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