Today the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health reports three (3) new cases of Zika, with none of the new cases occurring among pregnant women. According to the
report, there were also 15 cases of dengue in the territory. There are now a total of 24 confirmed Zika cases in the USVI; with 15 cases in St. Croix, 8 cases in St. Thomas and 1 in St. John. To date, 647 pregnant women in the USVI have been tested for Zika, and three were confirmed positive.
“The increase in Zika cases in the Virgin Islands are very concerning; however, we are relieved that none of the new cases include pregnant women,” Commissioner Nominee, Dr. Michelle Davis stated in response to the updated report. In addition Dr. Davis also commented, “We [The Department of Health (DOH)] have been vigilant in educating the public, providing free testing to individuals exhibiting symptoms as well as free inspections, larvicide treatments and Zika Prevention Kits for pregnant women; 600 Zika kits have been distributed territory wide.” Commissioner Davis also outlined several future plans to support the departments Zika response. “At the DOH we will continue to emphasize the importance of protecting oneself and their loved ones from the possible devastating health effects of this virus and encourage our residents to take advantage of the free services offered by the Department of Health.”
Zika is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected or may be infected and have no symptoms. Zika can also be spread sexually.
For pregnant women and their unborn children, the consequences are much more severe. Pregnant women infected with Zika can pass the virus on to their unborn baby, which can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly that is marked by smaller-than-normal heads and brains. This, in turn, can lead to long-lasting mental disabilities.
The DOH is working diligently to protect USVI’s next generation from these health effects by offering the following free services to pregnant women:
- Zika testing;
- Inspections to look for mosquito larvae and mosquito breeding grounds at/around her house;
- Larvicide treatment if mosquito larvae are found at/around her house;
- Zika Prevention Kit, which includes educational materials, insect repellent, permethrin spray repellent for clothing, condoms to avoid sexual transmission of Zika, treatment tabs for preventing mosquitoes from breeding in standing water, and a bed net.
“At the Department of Health, we are committed to protecting pregnant women and their babies from the health effects of Zika,” said Deputy Commissioner Kimberly Jones. “If you are a pregnant woman, we strongly encourage you to get tested either at the Department of Health or at one of the 15 clinics across the islands we have partnered with to offer free Zika testing to pregnant women and anyone exhibiting signs of the virus.”
“If pregnant women face any challenges getting tested at any of the free Zika testing locations listed on the DOH website, call our Emergency Operations Center and we will connect you immediately to the appropriate testing services,” said Jones.
Zika testing is also available, free of charge, to anyone exhibiting signs of infection, such as fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes.
DOH representatives also stress that there are simple steps everyone can take to protect themselves and their families by following the 4 Ds:
- Dress – wear protective clothing – 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
- Discuss – spread the word about the simple things you can do to make a difference
To support its response to the Zika virus, the USVI Department of Health is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to strengthen efforts to track the outbreak, enhance laboratory services for faster testing results and get the word out about how you can protect yourself against Zika.
For local information about the Zika virus, to have an expert come out to your group or organization to share more about Zika or to receive any of the Department of Health’s free services, call the Department of Health Emergency Operations Center at (340) 712-6205 or visit
www.healthvi.org/zika. For more general information about the Zika virus call toll free: 1-800-CDC-INFO.