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

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Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Dengue in Brazil perched on a leaf, macro photography, selective focus

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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Experts Warn of Marijuana’s Long-Term Damage to Brain and Developing Fetuses Amid Push for Reclassification

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The Biden administration’s recent proposal to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, equating it with substances like anabolic steroids and Tylenol with codeine, has ignited a contentious debate. While supporters assert that this reclassification would offer tax advantages and invigorate the cannabis industry, health experts caution about the severe negative impacts of marijuana use.

Rising Marijuana Use and Legalization Trends

A 2022 survey sponsored by the National Institutes of Health revealed that 28.8% of Americans aged 19 to 30 had used marijuana in the previous month, a rate more than three times higher than cigarette use in the same age group. Among adults aged 35 to 50, 17.3% reported using marijuana, compared to 12.2% who smoked cigarettes. Although marijuana remains federally illegal, it is now authorized for recreational use in 24 states and for medical purposes in 14 additional states.

Health Risks and Addiction

Bertha Madras, a psychobiology professor at Harvard Medical School and a leading authority on marijuana, strongly opposes the reclassification. In a recent opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, she stated, “It’s a political decision, not a scientific one. And it’s a tragic one.” Madras, who has spent 60 years studying psychoactive drugs, underscores the high addiction potential of marijuana, especially among young people. About 30% of cannabis users develop some degree of use disorder, compared to 13.5% of alcohol users. Madras emphasizes that marijuana use is primarily aimed at intoxication and notes that academic performance and college completion rates are significantly lower among marijuana users than alcohol drinkers.

Cognitive Impairment and Driving Risks

Marijuana use significantly impairs cognitive function and driving safety. Unlike alcohol, there are no established medical “cutoff points” to determine when it’s safe to drive after using marijuana. States with legal marijuana have reported increased car accidents. “Marijuana just sits there and promotes brain adaptation,” explains Madras, noting that the substance remains in the brain much longer than alcohol.

High-Potency Marijuana and Mental Health

The potency of today’s cannabis is far greater than it was 30 years ago, with significantly higher levels of THC, the main psychoactive component. This increased potency elevates the risks of marijuana use, including anxiety, depression, impaired memory, and cannabis hyperemesis syndrome—a condition characterized by severe vomiting due to prolonged use. Madras points to evidence suggesting that cannabis can induce schizophrenia. A study of 6.9 million Danes indicated that up to 30% of schizophrenia diagnoses in young men could have been prevented if they had not become dependent on marijuana. She highlights that users of other potent recreational drugs develop chronic psychosis at much lower rates compared to marijuana users.

Impact on Pregnant Women and Children

The growing use of marijuana among pregnant women is another major concern. Marijuana use during pregnancy has been linked to higher rates of preterm births, neonatal intensive care unit admissions, lower birth weights, and smaller head circumferences. THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, crosses the placenta and affects fetal brain development. Adolescents exposed to THC in utero exhibit increased aggressive behavior, cognitive dysfunction, and symptoms of ADHD and OCD.

Lack of Medicinal Benefits

Despite widespread claims about marijuana’s medicinal benefits, Madras has found strong evidence supporting its use only for neuropathic pain. For other types of pain and conditions, high-quality trials do not provide robust evidence of benefits. She compares the current promotion of marijuana to the marketing of opioids, where benefits are exaggerated and risks minimized.

The Call for Rigorous Research

Madras disputes the claim that cannabis cannot be adequately studied while classified as a Schedule I substance. She has successfully researched THC despite the additional regulatory paperwork. Madras calls on wealthy donors and advocates to fund rigorous clinical trials instead of ballot initiatives.

Conclusion

Reclassifying marijuana would not legalize its recreational use under federal law but would enable businesses to deduct expenses and culturally signal that marijuana use is normal. Madras warns that this sets a dangerous precedent and undermines efforts to prevent addiction. “This is not a war on drugs,” she asserts. “It’s a defense of the human brain at every possible age from in utero to old age.”

The debate over marijuana reclassification highlights the need to carefully weigh potential benefits against the significant health risks outlined by experts like Madras.

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USVI Wellness Fair to Offer Comprehensive Free Health Services

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The 2024 USVI Wellness Fair is set to bring a plethora of free dental, optometry, and medical screenings to the territory next month. Nearly 300 healthcare professionals and support staff will participate in this extensive health initiative. The announcement was made during Monday’s Government House press briefing by territorial epidemiologist Dr. Tai Hunte-Cesar.

A collaboration among the Department of Health, the Office of the Governor, and the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Program, the initiative aims to provide essential health services at no cost to residents. Dr. Hunte-Cesar highlighted that this is the second such mission to the territory, recalling a successful deployment last August where a 20-person medical team conducted nearly 800 pediatric procedures.

From June 1 through June 9, residents can access a wide range of services. Dental care will include exams, cleanings, fillings, and extractions. Optometry services will cover both routine and emergency eye exams, retinal evaluations, school vision screenings, and the provision of prescription eyeglasses. Additionally, the fair will offer screenings for blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol levels, mental wellness assessments, and pediatric services such as physicals and vaccinations.

Air Force Major Miu Zhang, who is in charge of this year’s mission, explained the dual benefits of the initiative. Launched in 1992, the IRT program not only provides critical training opportunities for military personnel but also delivers vital services to American communities. Major Zhang referred to the effort as a “win-win” situation.

The services will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, with special consideration given to the elderly and individuals with disabilities through dedicated early morning slots. Although not mandatory, pre-registration is highly recommended and will be available starting May 20 via an online portal.

Adult services will be conducted at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School gymnasium on St. Thomas and the Educational Complex school gymnasium on St. Croix. Pediatric care will be hosted at the Department of Health’s maternal and child health clinics.

Operating hours are scheduled from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. The fair will conclude on Sunday, June 9, with a special session from 9 a.m. to noon dedicated to connecting individuals with further care and services available within the territory.

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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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