Feared Zika birth defect appears in VI

Almost two years since it first appeared in the Virgin Islands, a case of mosquito borne illness has produced a severe birth defect at the end of a pregnancy.

On May 12, Health Commissioner Michelle Davis announced the first recorded case of microcephaly. Infants born with microcephaly have smaller heads and may suffer from brain abnormalities.

Davis issued a public precautionary after receiving test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The Department of Health (DOH) is reporting the first baby born in the U.S. Virgin Islands with Zika-related microcephaly, as confirmed by CDC testing. We are saddened to report this case; however, we are not surprised due to the high rate of local transmission in the territory,” Davis said.

Worldwide fears about the spread of Zika related birth defects began in Brazil in 2015. Since then a surge of cases spread through South America, the Caribbean and the U.S.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were especially hit hard. The first microcephaly case was reported in Puerto Rico seven months ago.

Davis said Puerto Rico’s Department of Health says there have been 29 infants born with Zika-associated birth defects, to date. In the U.S. 64 infants born with Zika-associated birth defects.

A spokesman for the CDC confirmed the VI report of a severe birth defect in a pregnant woman testing positive for Zika.

“CDC is aware of this report, and this situation reinforces how important it is for pregnant women and women of reproductive age to protect themselves against Zika virus infection,” said Media Relations Specialist Benjamin Haynes.

Reported birth defects include microcephaly, eye abnormalities, and hearing problems. The VI Department of Health continues to keep track of Zika infections, territory-wide, the health commissioner said.

“We must continue to remain vigilant in preventing infection through mosquito bites and unprotected sex; especially to pregnant women,” the health commissioner said.

Health officials urge the public to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants; eliminating standing water in the home and outdoors and by using repellents, bed nets, and screens on windows and doors.

Davis also offered a perspective on the problem.

“Recognizing that Zika is a cause of certain birth defects does not mean that every pregnant woman infected with Zika will have a baby with a birth defect. It means that infection with Zika during pregnancy increases the chances for these outcomes. Locally, out of the 232 recorded Zika positive pregnant women in the territory, there have been 105 births, one (1) of which had Zika-associated microcephaly case,” she said.

The Department of Health is encouraging those affected by Zika virus infections to contact DOH Maternal & Child Health Services. Information is also available through a local Zika Hotline for any questions regarding Zika prevention or free services for pregnant women. The number is 340-712-6205.