By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST THOMAS, USVI -- The US Virgin Islands (USVI) Department of Health has reported two new cases of zika in the territory. According to the weekly zika surveillance report, the total number of confirmed positive cases in the USVI is now 26: 16 cases on St Croix, nine cases on St Thomas and one on St John. There was also one new case of dengue confirmed this week.
Meanwhile, in Saint Lucia, the chief medical officer issued a press release and statement concerning the zika virus disease in the island, indicating that.eight cases have been confirmed.
To date, 690 pregnant women in the USVI have received zika testing, in which one pregnant woman has currently been confirmed positive.
“The Department of Health continues to be proactive in providing education on ways of prevention, free testing, free inspections (to include larvicide treatments), and free zika prevention kits for pregnant women and individuals exhibiting symptoms (such as fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes),” said Dr Michelle S. Davis, Commissioner of the Department of Health.
In February 2016, the department activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to coordinate all zika response efforts and field media/public inquiries. Additionally, they have been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to strengthen efforts to track the outbreak, enhance laboratory services for faster testing results and educate the populace.
“At the DOH we will continue to stress the importance of protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our islands from the possible devastating health effects of this virus and encourage our residents, especially pregnant women in the territory, to take advantage of the free services offered by the Department of Health,” Davis stated.
Zika is spread primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti 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. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected or may be infected and have no symptoms. zika can also be contracted orally and sexually.
Pregnant women are the most vulnerable; the effects are much more severe. If infected with Zika, they can pass the virus onto their unborn child, which has the potential to cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, a rare neurological condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Sometimes detected at birth, microcephaly usually is the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth.
Prior to 2016, zika virus disease had not been detected in Saint Lucia and most Caribbean countries. This means that the population has no natural immunity to this disease (an ‘immunologically naive’ population). As such, if a person is bitten by a mosquito infected with the zika virus, there is a high possibility that the individual would contract the disease, though its symptoms may be absent or very mild.
Given the very mild nature of the disease, most persons who contract zika may not know that they are infected, and would therefore not be recorded as cases within the health system. This, in addition to laboratory factors, implies that the number of confirmed cases recorded by the Epidemiology Unit will not reflect the actual number of cases of zika virus disease in the island.
As of June 15, 2016, eight cases of zika virus disease have been confirmed in Saint Lucia and, of this number, three are pregnant women.