Zika Awareness Raised at Back to School Health Fair

Hundreds of residents came to a weekend health fair to learn more about Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that can cause serious birth defects. The Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Walgreens teamed up to deliver testing, services and support for the community. [hr gap=”1″]

ST. THOMAS — On a busy Saturday, as families bustled to get their children ready for school, a crowd appeared in the parking lot at Walgreen’s in Estate Tutu.

It was Zika Action Day, one of two events sponsored by the Department of Health with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Walgreen’s. The mission was one of outreach and prevention.

People gathered around tents and tables while a deejay pumped soca music into the air. Health advisors waited patiently to ask and answer questions about Zika, what it is, how it’s spread. Others scooped up mosquito repellant samples, male and female condoms and Zika prevention kits.

The largest crowd waited patiently outside a Health Department van, offering back to school immunizations. Inside Walgreen’s in the pharmacy section, a smaller crowd waited for Zika testing.

Health Department spokesperson Nykole Tyson helped to coordinate the exhibits and activities. By mid day Saturday the turnout numbered into the hundreds.

“It has been a big benefit to them to get free immunizations and clearances for their children. We have a lot of families waiting to get shots and we have others who have already been cleared to get registration for their children. They’ve been very happy to receive all the Zika prevention materials here.”

‘It’s a big topic and a lot of people are concerned, and it shows by how many people showed up here,” Tyson said. The spokeswoman added that the vaccination event was already planned, but since Zika has become a growing concern Health officials decided to combine the two initiatives.

Providing student immunizations also allowed the Department of Health and CDC to reach a vulnerable population — families with children still in their baby-making years.

Since word of Zika infections and resulting birth defects showed up in South America several months ago, the U.S. and its territories have been on alert for spread of the mosquito borne illness. Puerto Rico, Florida and the Virgin Islands have received particular attention.

Puerto Rico — neighbor to the Virgin Islands — turned up as an early trouble spot, medical experts said. As of last week Puerto Rico has 8,746 locally acquired cases. The Virgin Islands has 176, Florida 29.

Two other factors listed in the Aug. 24 report drive the aggressive pushback against Zika. Because the illness can be sexually transmitted, new cases can arise without a mosquito bite. There is also concern for visitors who acquire Zika while traveling and take it home with them.

The CDC keeps separate figures on travel related Zika cases. Its latest report shows a rise in such cases in New York, California and Texas.

Health most recently hired contractors to help distribute Zika prevention kits. The kits contain mosquito netting, larvae prevention drops, repellent, condoms and literature.

Walgreens’ general manager Steve Marshall said he was also pleased to join the effort. “We’ve been communicating with the CDC and the Virgin Islands Department of Health for the last month, trying to get this all coordinated. It all came together and I think we have a lot more turnout than we expected,” Marshall said.

And in addition to the financial support, distributing gift cards to the crowd and reusable shopping bags, Marshall said Walgreen’s pharmacy took an additional step towards Zika prevention.

In the borrowed space where Zika tests took place, Health workers also took names of those wanting Zika vaccines. “I think they’re taking names. Once they get more vaccine on the island they’ll be able to do that through the Department of Health and their doctors,” Marshall said.

Twenty-five people were tested for Zika at the Saturday health fair on St. Thomas, eleven more Friday on St. Croix, Tyson said.  About 25 signed up for the test and Zika vaccine waiting list. Forty more signed up for in-home visits to check for effective mosquito prevention.

Visitors to the fair took home 912 mosquito repellants, 700 male and 650 female condoms, the Health spokeswoman said. One-hundred, seventy children received immunization services as they prepared for the new school year.