The V.I. Department of Health announced 24 new cases of Zika virus this week, bringing the total caseload to 968. Last week, 23 new cases were reported.
Territorial epidemiologist Esther Ellis said the outbreak peaked more than two months ago on St. Thomas and is continuing a downward trend on St. Croix. The department is unsure if the outbreak has peaked on St. Croix, since there was an uptick in new cases on the island in early November.
“The epidemiological curve looks almost exactly like it did with the chikungunya,” Ellis explained. “It peaked first on St. Thomas and then on St. Croix, which can have to do with population mobility, tourism and when the virus was first introduced.”
While there have been new cases on St. John, Ellis said there really isn’t a trend line for the island given the low caseload.
She said Health is sending about 75 to 100 blood samples for testing each week, which is a little less than what was being sent during the St. Thomas outbreak’s peak. Asymptomatic pregnant women are being tested twice throughout their pregnancy, so testing may go up during times when more women are pregnant.
Since people will likely spend more time outdoors during the holiday season, Health is urging the public to stay vigilant in preventing mosquito bites by using insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants when possible.
“The weather patterns don’t really get cold enough here to inhibit mosquito reproduction and we typically see more of them about three weeks after heavy rains,” Ellis said, adding that those who need assistance with vector control can call Health’s emergency operations center at 340-712-6205.
To understand how the outbreak is unfolding, it’s best to look at the epidemiological curve. (See Graphic) There have been 968 positives, which include 104 cases in pregnant women.
St. Thomas now has 619 confirmed cases and St. Croix has 177, while St. John stands at 68. Since the first local case was announced in late January, a total of 2,134 cases have come back negative and 118 are currently pending results.
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.
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 have been 29 cases of dengue on St. Thomas, 15 on St. Croix and two on St. John. At most, around one or two cases of dengue have been reported every couple weeks.
Zika can cause unborn babies to be born with an abnormally small head, a condition known as microcephaly, and can lead to other developmental issues. So far no cases of microcephaly have been reported in the territory.
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.
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.
The Health Department 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. 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.
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.