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Health Department Actions Stalled Dengue Outbreak, Officials Say

With the rainy season over, Health Commissioner Julia Sheen is crediting aggressive action during the peak of the hurricane and rainy seasons for preventing the spread of dengue fever outside the St. Thomas-St. John district, according to the V.I. Health Department.

In mid-October, at the height of the 2010 dengue outbreak, Environmental Health officers began visiting communities in that district to treat stagnant pools of water with insecticide pellets, according to Sheen. The method, called larviciding, prevented mosquito eggs from hatching and killed off the young mosquitoes, also known as larvae.

“Until that time, the Environmental Health Division had used larviciding sparingly; however, we embarked on a more aggressive method in addition to fogging and spraying neighborhoods where we’d tracked increases in the mosquito population,” Sheen said in a statement.

Health Department Epidemiologist Eugene Tull also credited the aggressive larviciding campaign for the decrease in the number of cases following an initial spike in reporting in October.

From the beginning of June to Nov. 29, only seven suspected cases were reported on St. Croix, with none being confirmed as dengue fever, according to the Health statement. Health reported the first confirmed dengue fever case on June 2. Updates and information about the disease’s causes, carriers and prevention are available at the Health website www.healthvi.org.

Overall, the department received 111 reports of suspected cases of dengue fever from area physicians during the 2010 outbreak in the St. Thomas-St. John district, compared to 270 reports of suspected cases that were received during the 2005 outbreak on St. Croix. In the St. Thomas-St. John district, the total number of suspected cases totaled 67 with 30 confirmed as dengue fever.

Sheen credited Health’s maintenance workers on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, who assisted the Environmental Health division to ensure larviciding, fogging and spraying happened following heavy rains.

“Our maintenance workers helped beef up a manpower shortage within the Environmental Health Division,” Sheen said. “We simply could not have done it without them going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Sheen also urged residents to continue to scour their yards after heavy rains as dengue is as endemic to the Virgin Islands as hurricanes.

“At the start of the hurricane season, from June 1 to November 30 each year, the department issues reminders to residents about the risk of dengue fever with increased rains,” Sheen said. “We urge residents to continue to practice, each time it rains, to scour their yards for anything that may hold stagnant water and provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes that cause dengue.”

The dengue fever virus is transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti which breeds in man-made containers and residents put themselves at risk if old tires, plant containers, empty drums and even food containers for animals are around the homes where water can collect and provide a breeding ground for the mosquitoes, Sheen said.

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