Senate updated on health issues
Published: February 22, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The Senate Committee on Health, Hospitals, Human Services and Veterans Affairs grilled V.I. Health Department officials Thursday about dengue, the flu and mental health.
Dengue is a virus transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes Aegypti mosquito.
Symptoms can include a high fever, along with headache, joint and muscle pain, pain behind the eyes, nausea, vomiting and a skin rash.
About 300 confirmed cases have been reported in the last year, although Health Commissioner Darice Plaskett said the number of cases are under-reported.
Health care providers are required to report confirmed cases of dengue to the Health Department, but a case is confirmed only with a blood test, and many people do not get tested. No vaccine for dengue exists, and no medicine can be used to treat it, Plaskett said.
In December, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the V.I. Health Department's Environmental Health officers, conducted mosquito assessments at schools on St. Croix and in neighborhoods known to have a high number of dengue cases.
The CDC's epidemiologist came to St. Croix recently and provided continuing medical education to medical staff about the clinical management of dengue.
Similar activities are being planned for the St. Thomas-St. John District when the CDC's Dengue Branch resumes its technical support next month, Plaskett said.
Senators questioned Health officials extensively about the pros and cons of mosquito fogging.
Plaskett said Department of Planning and Natural Resources approved the use of a chemical - Permanone 30-30 - to spray certain areas. The pesticide is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.
Fogging began in January but was halted following a recent request from DPNR to develop and implement additional restrictions. Plaskett said DPNR wants 20- to 50-foot buffer zones around specific application sites; only fogging at night; and potable water monitoring to ensure cisterns are not being contaminated.
She said fogging does not target the dengue-carrying mosquitoes, and only about 5 percent of the mosquitoes killed by the pesticide are Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. The dengue-carrying mosquitoes tend to live in people's homes and buildings and are active during the daytime. Health is focusing on putting larvaecide in bodies of standing water to kill off mosquito eggs before they hatch.
Plaskett said using larvaecide is effective and environmentally friendly. The department soon will announce the schedule of water sources to be treated, she said.
The Health Department also is focusing on public education to prevent dengue by using repellent and reducing the mosquito population in the home, workplace and school.
"The best way to reduce mosquitoes is to eliminate the places where the mosquito lays her eggs, like artificial containers that hold water in and around the home. Outdoors, clean water containers like pet and animal watering containers, flower planter dishes or cover water storage barrels. Look for standing water indoors, such as in vases with fresh flowers and clean at least once a week," Plaskett said.
The Health Department received reports of 50 flu cases from January 2012 to January 2013, Plaskett said.
"This data we believe is an under-representation of the flu activities in the territory because very few cases are reported via the Reportable Disease Form that is our primary system of gathering data," she said.
Health staff will continue to work with public and private medical providers to encourage the use of the reporting forms, Plaskett said.
Flu vaccination rates always have been lower in the territory than in the rest of the country, she told senators. Fewer than 10 percent of Virgin Islands children get the flu shot and only 41.5 percent of seniors do, according to Plaskett. Nationally, about 36.8 percent of children are immunized, and about 61 percent of seniors get the shot.
The department has been offering the flu shot at special outreach events during the last year, most recently at the Agricultural Fair on St. Croix.
Free flu shots will be given out from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ottley Post Office in Sugar Estate.
In 2009, the government entered into a consent decree with the federal court to develop a five-year strategic plan to improve the territory's mental health and substance abuse systems.
A commission of hospital representatives and local nonprofit service providers gave input, and a consultant has been selected to put the plan together. Plaskett said the consultant should begin work next month.
- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.