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Virgin Islands Government Advocates for National Emergency Declaration Amid St. Croix Water Crisis

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Following the detection of increased levels of lead and copper in St. Croix’s water sources, the Virgin Islands Government is diligently coordinating with federal agencies to advocate for a national emergency declaration by President Biden. Such a declaration could significantly bolster testing measures, provide valuable technical support, and deliver immediate aid to the island’s residents, especially targeting the most vulnerable segments of the population.

On a recent Thursday, the USVI Joint Information Center divulged the findings of an exhaustive reevaluation performed across various locations within the Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA) potable water distribution network. These locations had earlier indicated heightened levels of lead and copper. The latest examination reaffirms that the concentrations of these pollutants exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) established action level of 15 parts per billion. Given this revelation, the Unified Incident Command is cautioning St. Croix’s residents against the consumption or use of the water for drinking purposes. However, according to EPA guidelines, activities like bathing, toilet flushing, laundering, and cleaning remain safe for residents.

The quest to ascertain the primary source and full scope of the contamination continues, as stated by the Government House. Both the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and WAPA have found that waterline flushing markedly lowers the levels of lead and copper, frequently to undetectable amounts or below the action threshold. Consequently, WAPA is implementing a broad-ranging flushing initiative, according to a press release.

The preliminary discoveries stemmed from evaluations carried out on September 28 and 29, which were part of a joint inquiry involving WAPA, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and the EPA, aimed at identifying the cause of the water discoloration issue.

Follow-up testing focused on certain public facilities in the previously identified areas, such as the St. Croix Educational Complex, John H. Woodson Junior High School, Alfredo Andrews Elementary School, and the Mount Pleasant Housing Community. Water samples from these locations displayed either undetectable or below threshold levels of 15 parts per billion, as reported by the Government House.

To address health inquiries concerning lead in drinking water and its testing, the Department of Health has launched two hotline numbers, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, reachable at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. Furthermore, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources has inaugurated a hotline at 340-514-3666, available during similar hours.

The Department of Health has also notified the public about the availability of lead exposure tests at the Clinical Laboratory Inc., situated at the Sunny Isle Medical Center on St. Croix, and at the St. Thomas East End Medical Center at Tutu Park Mall on St. Thomas.

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Virgin Islands Health Department Alerts Public to Dengue Fever Amid Regional Outbreak

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Amid concerns over a dengue fever outbreak in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands Department of Health is urging residents to be vigilant in recognizing and responding to the symptoms of this mosquito-borne disease. The call to action follows the confirmation of three cases of dengue fever within the territory, sparking fears of a potential increase in cases.

Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion emphasized the critical need for public education on the similarities and differences between the symptoms of dengue fever and COVID-19. With both diseases presenting similar early symptoms, Encarnacion underscored the importance of early detection and appropriate medical consultation.

“Dengue and COVID-19 share early signs, but understanding and distinguishing the unique symptoms of dengue is crucial for timely and effective treatment,” Encarnacion stated. She outlined the typical symptoms of dengue fever as fever, nausea, vomiting, rash, and pains in the eye, muscles, joints, or bones. These symptoms generally last from two to seven days, with most people recovering within a week.

The Health Commissioner provided guidance on managing dengue symptoms, advising against the use of aspirin or ibuprofen and recommending acetaminophen instead. She stressed the importance of seeking medical advice and undergoing a blood test if symptoms appear.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is most active at dawn and dusk, is identified as the primary carrier of the dengue virus. In light of the outbreak, residents are advised to eliminate standing water around their homes and use EPA-approved repellents to prevent mosquito bites and breeding.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has warned that severe dengue can develop in about 5% of cases, posing a higher risk to infants, pregnant women, and individuals who have previously contracted dengue. Symptoms of severe dengue, including abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, and bleeding from the nose or gums, require immediate medical attention.

This advisory comes as Puerto Rico declares a state of emergency following a record 549 cases of dengue reported this year. The Virgin Islands Department of Health remains proactive in its efforts to prevent a similar surge in cases, advocating for community awareness and adherence to prevention measures.

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The Complex Challenge of Diabetes Management in the USVI: Insights from Health Professionals

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In the US Virgin Islands, the battle against diabetes presents unique challenges, underscored by the local response to treatment options like Semaglutide, known commercially as Wegovy and Ozempic. These medications, which are increasingly popular for their weight loss side effects, have not seen widespread adoption in the territory, according to healthcare professionals.

Semaglutide, a weekly injectable medication for type 2 diabetes, enhances insulin production and lowers blood sugar. It’s also taken orally by prediabetic individuals to delay the onset of diabetes. Despite its benefits and growing fame—bolstered by celebrity endorsements like Oprah, who referred to it as a “maintenance tool”—the drug’s reception in the USVI has been lukewarm.

During a recent legislative discussion on diabetes management, Senator Marise James questioned the extent of Semaglutide’s use in the territory. Carlos Castillo, a nurse practitioner at the V.I. Diabetes Center of Excellence, revealed a surprising trend: many Virgin Islanders resist the weight loss that accompanies the medication. Castillo shared that while Semaglutide could lead to a 4-6% reduction in body weight, many locals prefer not to use it for fear of losing weight.

Another significant hurdle is the medication’s cost. Without insurance coverage, the price can soar to $1,200 monthly, making it inaccessible for some. This issue of affordability, alongside cultural attitudes towards weight and medication, contributes to the drug’s limited use.

The phenomenon of preferring natural remedies over prescribed medication and the reluctance to lose weight reflect broader cultural attitudes towards health, as noted by Julia Sheen, the executive director of the Virgin Islands Diabetes Center of Excellence. Sheen stressed, however, that not all Virgin Islanders share this sentiment. The Center’s efforts in education, outreach, and diabetes management classes aim to promote healthier lifestyles and understanding of the link between weight control and diabetes management.

Despite the challenges, the commitment of the Virgin Islands Diabetes Center of Excellence to combat diabetes through comprehensive education and support programs remains unwavering. Their work illustrates the importance of tailored health interventions that respect cultural values while striving to improve outcomes for those living with diabetes in the territory.

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Addressing the Diabetes Epidemic in the USVI: A Call for Urgent Action

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At a recent meeting convened by the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, the growing epidemic of diabetes within the U.S. Virgin Islands was thrust into the spotlight, revealing a critical need for immediate public health interventions. Julia Sheen, the executive director of the Virgin Islands Diabetes Center of Excellence (VIDCOE), delivered alarming statistics, positioning diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death in the territory, with over 12,000 residents currently afflicted.

Sheen highlighted lifestyle factors such as insufficient exercise and poor dietary habits as key contributors to the territory’s diabetes rates. Although women are predominantly represented in these statistics, Sheen suggests this may mask an underreporting issue among men. A notable gap in data concerning diabetic children in the USVI prompted questions from Senator Diane Capehart, to which Sheen admitted the absence of comprehensive data on youth, emphasizing a significant blind spot in the territory’s public health strategy.

The absence of specific data notwithstanding, Sheen underscored the urgent need for targeted educational programs aimed at children, particularly those overweight or obese, to curb the onset of diabetes. In support of this preventive approach, Senator Milton Potter relayed a citizen’s proposal for screening all fourth graders for prediabetic conditions, subject to parental consent and available funding.

The discussion also turned to the scarcity of public facilities conducive to exercise, a crucial preventive measure against diabetes. Senator Kenneth Gittens critiqued the reliance on private sector support for creating walkable spaces, instead advocating for government-led initiatives to improve and maintain public recreational facilities. He lamented the demolition of Arthur A Richards Junior High School, which had provided a range of recreational resources to the community, and emphasized the importance of accessible, well-maintained sidewalks to support a healthy lifestyle.

The committee unanimously recognized the need for a collaborative approach to combating diabetes, involving multiple government departments, including Education and Human Services. The financial strain of diabetes management, costing the territory approximately $120 million annually, underscores the urgency of these interventions. This collective resolve marks a pivotal step toward addressing the diabetes crisis in the USVI, aiming to safeguard the health and wellbeing of its citizens through comprehensive public health strategies and infrastructure improvements.

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