On late Tuesday the V.I. Department of Health confirmed 121 new cases of Zika in the territory, but reminded the public that the outbreak is still on a downward trend.
The outbreak appears to have peaked in late July but a number of new cases have been reported as starting in mid-September and thereafter.
Nykole Tyson, Health’s director of public relations, said in a statement that the increase in positives is attributable to pending cases, since there’s a lag time between when samples are taken and results are returned.
According to Tyson, “The significant increase in positive cases is primarily due to pending results dating back three weeks; the case increase is not specific to last week.”
Tyson continued, “As last week’s surveillance report indicated, there were a large number of pending results (261 on last report) that we received results back for and have updated the status in the database accordingly.”
To understand how the outbreak is unfolding, it’s best to look at the epidemiological curve (See Graphic). Reported cases are on one axis and the onset of symptoms are on the other axis.
The number of new cases that are confirmed each week isn’t reflective of the current situation and the timing of the onset of symptoms has to be taken into account to see when the virus was likely first contracted.
“Although the number of Zika cases have increased, we are on a case decline on St. Thomas,” Tyson said.
There have been 833 positives, including cases in pregnant women, since the first case was announced in late January. A total of 1,963 cases have come back negative and 92 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 556 confirmed cases. St. Croix has 139 total, while St. John stands at 52.
Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said, "The Department of Health is remains vigilant in responding to this outbreak and encourages all Virgin Islanders to utilize the tips and free services/resources we are providing to reduce Zika infection in the territory."
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.
Those who have been waiting longer than three weeks for their results can call Health’s emergency operations center at 340-712-6205and ask to speak with the territorial epidemiologist Esther Ellis.
Dengue is also currently circulating in the territory. When a person is tested for Zika, they are also screened for dengue and chikungunya. This year there’s been 26 cases on St. Thomas, 14 on St. Croix and two on St. John.
Zika can cause unborn babies to be born with an abnormally small head and can cause other developmental issues. To date 86 pregnant women in the territory have been confirmed positive for Zika.
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.
Health has not reported any hospitalizations or deaths as a result of Zika. 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. 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.