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What You Need To Know To Protect Yourself From The Zika Virus

caribbean hammock

Ahh, Memorial Day!

For generations of Americans, the holiday has marked the beginning of the season of sunscreen, barbecues and chlorine.

It’s when you start putting sticky notes all over the guidebooks for that exotic trip abroad.

And when you start tuning out at work and daydreaming about lying on a hammock with a thick paperback and a smoothie in hand. But this year, the long weekend also signals something a little more ominous. This is when you should start getting serious, if you haven’t already, about Zika.

U.S. health officials warn that mosquitoes carrying the virus could hit the mainland’s southern borders — starting with Florida and the Gulf Coast and going all the way to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — in few weeks, and as list of affected countries continues to expand, so does the likelihood that one of those places will be on your itinerary. The latest additions include Argentina, Grenada, St. Barts and Peru.

For the third week in a row, the Virgin Islands Department of Health (DOH) reported no new cases of Zika. According to the DOH’s weekly Zika Surveillance Report, the total number of Zika cases this week remains at 21; with 15 cases in St. Croix, five cases in St. Thomas and one in St. John.

“Although the number of confirmed Zika cases continues to remain steady, we cannot afford to be complacent and must continue to address this outbreak with vigilance and urgency,” said Commissioner Nominee, Dr. Michelle Davis, “There are simple steps, each of us can take every day: use insect repellent, wear protective clothes, and mosquito-proof your home. And if you are pregnant or have symptoms, get tested for Zika today.”

The mosquito that spreads Zika is the same species that transmits chikungunya and dengue and is an aggressive daytime biter; it also bites at night. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends protecting against Zika by using insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients whenever outdoors: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.

CDC also recommends wearing clothing treated with permethrin that covers your arms and legs, as well as eliminating standing water in and around your home where mosquito larvae thrive, by emptying items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, flowerpots, or trash containers.

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.  

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. 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.

Zika testing is also available, free of charge, to anyone exhibiting signs of infection, such as fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes.

“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 you are told that you cannot be tested at any of the sites, which are listed on the DOH website, call our Emergency Operations Center so that we can connect you immediately to the appropriate testing services,” said Jones.

For local information about the Zika virus or to receive any of these free services, call the Department of Health Emergency Operations Center at (340) 712-6205 or visit www.healthvi.org. For more general information about the Zika virus call toll free: 1-800-CDC-INFO.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

1 Comment

  1. June 15, 2016 at 4:43 PM — Reply

    I have been hearing a lot about this disease with the Olympics in Brazil this year. It is really scary that you could be exposed to this. I appreciate the information on how to better prepare and protect yourself.

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What You Need To Know To Protect Yourself From The Zika Virus