University Prepares for Zika Virus


Update from the USVI Dept. Health posted to their webpage Feb. 16 2016

Alayna Belshe |

ST. THOMAS – The University of the Virgin Islands is taking the Zika virus situation seriously.

Friday UVI’s Emergency Management Committee hosted an informational forum featuring Dr. Dan Baden, of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and Dr. Esther Ellis, the territorial epidemiologist, of the VI Department of Health. UVI’s own nurse, Maritza DeCosta, director of the Student Health Center, also presented and directed the Q&A session following the presentations.

The purpose of the forum was to present known information on the Zika virus, to hear from the CDC representative, and to answer the UVI community’s questions.

Dr. Baden focused on Zika and pregnancy. His main point suggested that there is currently not enough data on Zika, although the CDC has confirmed that there is transmission of Zika from mothers to unborn children.

“Pregnancy does not increase infection rate,” said Baden. Regarding the recent connection made in Brazil between Zika and microcephaly, children born with small heads, he pointed out that there are two types of microcephaly. The primary type is due to genetics and the secondary type is a result of infections.

Zika was found in some, but not all cases of microcephaly, Baden pointed out. In regards to the situation in Brazil, there is not a sufficient amount of data comparing microcephaly rates before 2015.

There is no vaccine for Zika, all one can do is prevent mosquito bites, and travelers can spread this disease.

“Infected people need to protect themselves, as well as prevent transmission,” said Baden.

In response to an audience member’s question about the presentation focusing on the spread of the virus in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Dr. Ellis said, “This virus is spreading. Just because it hasn’t been detected in those countries doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

The Virgin Islands Department of Health is involved with many outreach efforts including giving out bed nets to pregnant women, updating their Facebook page with weekly updates on the situation, and providing blood tests at no cost to patients, in partnership with local clinics.

Nurse DeCosta stated that UVI’s prevention measures had started with dengue. She urged attendees to “maintain preventative efforts, wear your long sleeves, and follow the process to protect yourself from mosquito bites.”

“Our efforts include preventative education posters in the halls and suites,” said DeCosta.

Due to evidence of Zika being sexually transmitted, Nurse DeCosta also mentioned the importance of condom use.

“Males, use your protective equipment to protect your partner,” advised DeCosta.

She described the symptoms: fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eye), muscle pain, and headache behind the eyes.

If you have any two of the symptoms, students are advised to go to the health center or their primary care physicians, who will determine if a blood test for Zika is necessary.

“[Zika] is mild. Lasts for a few days to weeks,” said DeCosta.

There will be a Zika presentation seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 23, where Dr. Ellis will present further information about the virus and update the community on the changing situation.

For more general information about the Zika virus. Please visit the CDC’s website:



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