ST CROIX, USVI -- Health Commissioner Darice Plaskett said that representatives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are in the US Virgin Islands through next week to assist the local health department in determining the degree of dengue activity in St Croix.
“We have invited CDC epidemiologists and entomologists to provide technical assistance to the health department in investigating the apparent increase in dengue cases that began last month,” Plaskett said.
CDC staff will work with health department staff and community health care professionals to ensure that people with a dengue-like illness have access to dengue diagnostic testing, Plaskett said.
Dengue is caused by dengue viruses transmitted by female Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes live in and around houses and buildings, and are active during the daytime. They lay eggs in containers that hold water around where people live. These include old tires, plant containers, empty drums, and even food containers for animals.
Dengue symptoms can include a high fever as well as headache, joint and muscle pain, pain behind the eyes, nausea, vomiting, and rash. Residents should seek medical care if they have any of these symptoms. The only way to determine if a person has dengue is by laboratory testing done on a blood sample. Some people with dengue also develop warning signs such as severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, bleeding, lethargy, pale and cold skin, or difficulty breathing. These warning signs may indicate that the patient has severe disease and should be treated urgently.
Earlier this week, the department’s environmental health officers and CDC entomologists began conducting mosquito assessments at schools and in neighborhoods known to have a high number of dengue cases. In addition, an investigation will begin to determine how many cases of dengue have been identified at schools.
“We have been in touch with Education Commissioner Dr LaVerne Terry and with leadership of both parochial and private schools to alert them of this investigation which will determine the specific activity we are dealing with and how all of us can better prepare,” Plaskett said.
In addition to mosquito assessments conducted at schools, CDC and health department staff will conduct surveys of students and teachers at several schools on the island to learn more about who has had dengue. Some students and teachers will also be asked to participate in the testing of their blood for evidence of recent dengue virus infection to confirm the extent of dengue in schools. These investigations will provide information to help prevent the spread of dengue in the USVI.
While there is no cure for dengue, residents are reminded that there are a number of steps they can take to protect themselves and their families from dengue by using the following prevention methods:
• Avoid mosquito bites by closing windows and doors without screens; repair or install screens.
• Wear clothing that protects from mosquito bites (long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes, hats)
• Apply insect repellent only to exposed skin or clothing, follow product instructions carefully. Do not use repellents on babies less than 2 months of age.
• Protect infants: cover cribs, strollers and baby carriers with cotton mosquito netting at all times, day and night, both inside and outside of the home. Dress babies in loose cotton clothing that covers arms and legs.
• Empty water out of old drums, tires, plants in water, plastic containers, and other items that are not being used. Turn outdoor containers upside down when not in use to prevent water collection or drain them weekly.
• Make sure cisterns are tightly covered so that mosquitoes cannot get inside and lay eggs.
• Place fish in stored or standing water that cannot be drained or emptied easily. Small fish eat mosquito larvae.
• Repair broken septic tanks and cover vent pipes with wire mesh.
The Department of Health will continue eliminating sources of mosquito production such as standing pools of water and larviciding mosquito production sites.
“Larviciding involves the treatment of water sources that hold mosquito eggs or larvae to kill off the immature mosquito before it becomes a flying mosquito,” Plaskett said. “This method of mosquito abatement was chosen because it is deemed more environmentally friendly and more effective in controlling Aedes mosquitoes.”
Plaskett said that fogging may be conducted in the future to help kill off increases in mosquitoes that normally come with heavy rains but that residents are reminded that fogging by itself does not effectively reduce the transmission of dengue virus.