ST. THOMAS — The Zika virus, which is continuing to grow as a devastating disease in the Caribbean and Latin America, jumped by 9 new cases in the territory this week, according to the Department of Health, bringing the total number of cases to 56.
According to D.O.H., the count per island sees 18 cases in St. Croix and 38 cases in St. Thomas. Out of the 797 pregnant women that have been tested, 9 have tested “presumptive positive” for Zika, meaning they are more than likely infected but D.O.H. needed to conduct additional tests to confirm. Also, there are currently 23 cases of dengue in the territory (13 in St. Croix, 8 in St. Thomas and 2 in St. John).
“Based on current research, greater than 90 percent of all pregnant women who test presumptive positive for Zika will deliver an infant free from the development of microcephaly,” D.O.H. Commissioner Michelle Davis said, attempting to allay fear that local pregnant women’s babies could be born with the birth defect.
She added that D.O.H. will host is first public forum about the viral disease at UVI’s St. Croix campus on Tuesday from 5:50 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Great Hall. “This will be a great opportunity for the public — including pregnant women and their partners — to learn more about Zika, the techniques they can use to reduce becoming infected and ask questions. This is a first in a series of educational efforts for the community,” Ms. Davis said.
The department is also planning a series of clinician seminars on both islands, with presentations by senior infectious disease specialists — all in an effort to ensure that physicians have the latest scientific information available to fight the dangerous disease. The initial clinician/physician seminar will be held in St. Thomas at the Schneider Regional Medical Center’s Cancer Center Auditorium from 8:00-9:30 a.m. on July 28, D.O.H. said.
Last week, D.O.H. launched a series of five 60-second health education segments on TV 2, which will be aired every Wednesday evening during TV2’s news cast for the next four weeks. D.O.H. is urging the community to tune in and learn more about ways to protect themselves and their families.
The department says that in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), it has provided 227 presentations throughout the territory, 18 in St. John, 78 in St. Thomas and 131 in St. Croix. Currently, there are 9 C.D.C. staff members embedded in the Department of Health’s EOC, assisting with the Zika response, D.O.H. said.
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.
The World Health Organization and the C.D.C. have urged pregnant women against travel to more than 45 countries in which the Zika virus is spreading, mostly in the Caribbean and Latin America. All pregnant women who have been to these regions should be tested for the infection, health officials have said, and should refrain from unprotected sex with partners who have visited these regions.
The Zika virus has been linked to unusually small heads and brain damage in newborns — called microcephaly — in children born to infected mothers, as well as blindness, deafness, seizures and other congenital defects. In adults, the virus is linked to a form of temporary paralysis, called Guillain-Barré syndrome.